RIP LucasArts

super-star-wars-return-of-the-jedi-02Disney’s acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm has turned the company into one of the biggest content producers of our time, even moreso than the company once was but it signals something different for many. With comics now a part of two of the largest media producers on the planet, there’s been a concern that business dictates art in the worst possible way.

Today, Disney closed LucasArts, the videogame arm of LucasFilm and a 30 year institution which released some of the greatest games of all time. LucasArts used to be a seal of quality, one that represented unique designers with a perspective, an eye for melding the cinematic with gameplay and the ability to create a tight experience rewarding for every player. It’s certainly a company that I have fond memories of and until the early 2000s, had a sterling track record that was interrupted by licensed flops such as “Star Wars: Kinect” and bevvies of other pap. I’m not here to remember the failures though and this is about celebrating a titan cut down before it could prove itself to its new owners. Look into your heart Disney, you know it to be true.

Maniac Mansion

“Maniac Mansion” is, to borrow a turn of phrase, an adventure game for the morbidly impatient. There’s so much not only to do, but also needs to be done, that it’s neigh impossible to figure out everything in your first go but that’s sort of the genius of the game. An homage to ’80s slasher movies but with a touch of camp charm for some much needed humor, the game works where series like “Monkey Island” often fell short. It’s fun, challenging and occasionally, legitimately thrilling.

Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventuresindiana-jones-greatest-adventures-02
A standout in the realm of LucasArts’ massive catalog of action-platformers, “Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures” mashes the only three movies that matter into a single great cartridge. While the “Super Star Wars” series was renowned for its difficulty and massively long boss health bars, this just feels right and nails the character so well. Blending platforming, twitch shooting and whip action that feels straight out of “Super Castlevania IV,” it’s one of the best movie-licensed offerings on the Super Nintendo.

Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire

“Shadows of the Empire” is one of LucasArts most ambitious console releases. A third person shooter/flying simulation/uncomfortable 3D platformer, “Shadows” is well loved for being such a bold step forward for the Star Wars license as well as the company. It’s flawed though. There are some far too slippery controls, jet pack platforming requiring pin-point accuracy and hit detection that could be described as wonky at best but when the game clicks, it really works and is a fun battle through some familiar characters and situations.

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader38He’s in your sights and you cool your thrusters to match speeds. As you line up, a pack of TIE-Fighters picks you up and there’s no time. Shots start nailing your tail, sending shocks up your arms and you knock out the bogey, jam on the orbital break and pull a hairpin turn  to get out of your pursuers’ sights. There’s no time to rest though and you break off from your team to take out the bastards who put you as dead to rights.

“Rogue Squardron II” is my favorite game of all time because it gives you those moments. A beautiful launch title for the Gamecube, you’re immediately thrown into the cockpit of some of the most iconic cinematic spaceships and sent into dogfights throughout the galaxy. The controls are tuned to give the player complete control of each ship and it’s up to the player to figure out how to defeat the hordes of foes arrayed against you. It’s relentlessly difficult but never unfairly so and mastery of each ship gives players the necessary edge to complete the missions made famous in the Star Wars but the real joy is the little moments the player makes for themselves. Taking those last few shots to nail a bomber before escaping from your enemy’s sights, pulling up as hard as you can to blow out the thrusters on a hovering platform, shooting down a pair of massive Star Destroyers after your companions have long sense returned for repairs all provide a charge that few games could ever script out for the player.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

The fastest selling Star Wars Game ever, “The Force Unleashed” feels now like the end of LucasArts. Eschewing so much of what made its games great, the freedom, the intuitive gameplay that goes hand in hand with plot, the compelling, likable characters, “The Force Unleashed” is a fun to play disappointment. Recalling “God of War” and “Devil May Cry” in its brutal and over the top combat system, it’s a game that feels forced into the franchise’s canon and out of place with the series. Protagonist and bad hair-cut enthusiast Starkiller downs Star Destroyers with the help of the Force and a series of really frustrating quick time events, relentlessly murders Jedi and takes on hundreds of stormtroopers without even once having to jump down a garbage chute.

The game is scripted within an inch of its life with long, unskippable cut scenes and unintuitive and frustrating pattern based boss fights. While much of the gameplay asks little of players but to creatively smash together their favorite Force powers, everything lacks impact, importance or heart and after dropkicking your 519th Jawa, nothing can make you sympathize with the dickish protagonist you’re stuck with. It’s a fun game but a lack of agency, inspiration and engaging action, it ends up somehow being less enjoyable than watching Episode II. And in the words of Liz Lemon, seriously, that one was just the worst.


“The war goes on” – Holy crap, check out “The Dark Knight Returns” animated trailer!

I know I said some negative things about Frank Miller’s influence on the Batman universe but I didn’t realize I’d be so excited to see the first trailer for the animated version of “The Dark Knight Returns.” I mean, holy god. In this first part of a pair of films, we’ve got the iconic battle between the Bat-tank and the mutants, the “operating table” scene and a loving homage to Batman’s battle with Two-Face. I mean, check out the link above, just watch it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Summer Classes: “The Producers”

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, I take on Mel Brooks’ theatrical comedy, “The Producers.” 

While watching “The Producers,” all I could really think about was the ways that progressive, transgressive comedy becomes the cliché of tomorrow. I remember how fresh, controversial and thought-provoking the obscenity of “Mr. Show” felt in the late ’90s, the raw fusion of boundary pushing jokes with ’60s zaniness in “The Sarah Silverman Program” and the way that “Louie” has fused the urban jungle of New York City with the familiarly skewed headscape of the titular comedian. I was saddened thinking about the comedy that pushes borders now being looked back on as something hokey, repetitive or worst of all, unfunny.

Mel Brooks’ 1968 film is revered in theater circles mostly, I assume, for its slightly meta premise. It naturally led to a remake, albeit an unbearable musical one, in 2005 and has run in theaters forever. It totally makes sense why. Its a film that claims to be offensive and crass and in bad taste where really its a bold concept pushed into a slapdash slapstick caper comedy.

Part of the problem is how little there really is to the movie. This is really clearly a first movie script, with it barely lasting to 84 minutes and much of that running time is devoted to Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel engaging in really broad slap stick. Brooks excelled at writing genre parodies where he had less of a need to write characters and needed to just write jokes. The whole thing plods through every scene that doesn’t feature jokes about Hitler. I was consistently reminded of pop culture aficionado Nathan Rabin’s description of Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror.” We’re waiting for them to bust out that machine gun leg and when they do, it is going to be glorious.

I’m personally sort of mystified by what comes after that. As the eponymous producers prepare to reap in the profits from their sure fire flop, the musical moves into its second act, in which L.S.D., played by Dick Shawn, plays Hitler as a bizarre combination of a mincing homosexual stereotype with an amalgam of hippy singer-songwriter traits. Hitler is all grooves and swinging hips and the crowd eats it up for no discernible reason. Its not clear if Brooks is making fun of musicals, their audiences or the ridiculousness of it all but it just doesn’t land.

Its abundantly clear that Trey Parker and Matt Stone learned a lot from the first song of “Springtime for Hitler.” Combining the most garish clichés of the classic musical with the ridiculous excess of fascism and a portrayal of Hitler as an overall just misunderstood guy is hysterical, if solely because of the combination of form and lyrics. The overall surreal stylings of the second act lessen the impact of the dissonance of form and function.

When “The Producers” clicks, its almost unbearably funny but everything else is stuck in a movie that feels like a relic. There are lisping gay theater stars, unnecessarily long static scenes, strange shifts of momentum and tone and a bit of a predictable cop-out ending but that’s not what I’m going to remember of the whole thing. Its a fun film in retrospect but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh a lot more at “Spaceballs” when i watched it minutes later.

Next Class: The Summer of Whedon is coming to a close so it looks like we’ll be exploring the least deserving spinoff show since “Joey,” the LA supernatural kung-fu noir of “Angel.”

“The Spin Zone” – 12 lazy, petty, vindictive, lying pop culture media members with a motive

There’s a reason the media rarely is portrayed in popular culture. Where the government, the military, the police and criminals can all be portrayed as proactive forces, the media is very reactive. As such, they can be portrayed as easily manipulable, lazy, elitist, pretentions or just plain bothersome to those who actually have good honest work to do. This leads to the media taking a lot of flack in popular culture but, interestingly, most negative portrayals of the media end up saying far more about the creators and editors than the reporters they skewer.

1. Battlestar Galactica – “Final Cut”

“Battlestar Galactica” was a great show with a mess of storytelling problems, namely some of its more fascist tendencies. The show never had much tolerance for the pacifistic, meddling media but nowhere is this clearer than in the second season’s “Final Cut.” There, the Galactica excepts a well known journalist to make a newscast about the men and women who keep the battleship running. Of course, the reporter, Diana, turns out to be a Cylon, solely interested in collecting intel about the surviving humans. Its barely a twist and its a cruel one if you want to consider it that.

2. “Spider-Man”

J. Jonah Jameson doesn’t speak too much of anything but necessity. There was a desperate need for Peter Parker to have a villain that was able to hold a candle to the villains that Spider-Man routinely faced and the biased editor of The Daily Bugle served just that role. Jameson’s campaign against Spider-Man put Peter in a quandary and provided a solid enemy that was both untouchable and necessary.

3. NewsRadio – “The Real Deal”

NewsRadio had a lot too say about the vain, narcissistic, self-mythologizing and just plain mean men and women that made the news but it was always in service of humor. In one memorable episode, on-air columnist Bill McNeal, played by the late great Phil Hartman, has to nab a great interview to keep his show on the air. Naturally, his narcissism and inability to, y’know, talk to people, gets in the way of his interview with Jerry Seinfeld, so he gets creative in delivering his story.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Earshot”

By season three, Joss Whedon had ironed most of the problems out of his supernatural teen soap opera but the flaws are apparent in “Earshot.” Delayed because of the Columbine Massacre, Buffy becomes aware of someone planning a killing spree at Sunnydale High. The episode’s great red herring is the slightly goth school newspaper editor, a guy who’s writen nothing but negative, extremely pessimistic about the people and institutions of the school. Even when its revealed that he’s not behind the plot, there’s still an bitter taste left in the mouth.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Adam Jensen’s been dealing with the very worst of global corporations and espionage by the time he heads to Montreal to find some answers. There, he’s attacked by mercenaries and left to try to find newscaster Eliza Cassan who’s been manipulating satellites to hide several people Jensen thought dead.  In the world of “Deus Ex,” its not that the media is innately evil, more that they can be bought and sold by anyone with the credits or enough strength to take what they want.

6. Mr. Show with Bob and David – Scams and Flams

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross had done their fair share of parodies of the emptiness and shallow reporting that characterized the daily news. One of their best was the “Scams and Flams” sketch, focusing on a gullible local features reporter sent to investigate businesses that might be scams. He’s, however, bought off by a man running a wishing well/ice cream parlor. Mixing a parody of local news with one of gotcha journalism, its a dark and witty satire.

7. Blitz

Jason Statham vehicle, “Blitz” has a lot of incoherent things to say about police brutality, serial killers and stardom but its main message is one focused on serial killers wanting the fame that accompanies their killings. Its a popular belief, one that many conservatives have bought into as a way to assign a motive to shooters and the film makes the media complicit in the killer’s crimes, feeding his actions.

8.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

J.K. Rowling’s consistent portrayal of the Daily Prophet as a near faceless antagonist is one of the most troublesome aspects of her series. Where she turns writers such as Rita Skeeter into reporters more interested in an entertaining piece than a truthful one, she focuses most of his ire on the paper to their view on Voldemort. By “Order of the Phoenix,” the Prophet has been reduced to a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Magic. The only possible explanation for her choice was laziness. With an inability to clearly show the government’s denial of the dark lord’s return, she blamed much of the propaganda on the Prophet, even reducing them to cartoonish villains willing to run a smear campaign.

9. That Mitchell and Webb Look – What do you reckon?

As newspapers and network news gasp against user created media and online news, they’ve attempted to integrate community feedback, often to insane levels. A fantastic sketch from across the pond, Robert Mitchell and David Webb set up a news team that wants to hear whatever the viewer “reckons” about nearly anything and they’ll read it on the air just because they feel like they have to. As the sketch escalates, their boredom makes everything funnier, showing the ridiculousness of losing the professional line of separation.

10. Parks and Recreation – “The Reporter”

In the underrated first season of “Parks,” Leslie’s enthusiastic attempts to do something with the pit is thrown up against a never ending line of red tape. In “The Reporter” she faces the media as well as problems within her own team as Mark tells a reporter after sex that the pit will never be fixed. The episode affixes plenty of blame on the reporter for her unscrupulous reporting techniques and the Parks’ departments mistrust of the newspaper continues well past the episode. I mean, they still really hate the library, but they’re not in love with The Pawnee Sun.

11. Dr. Who – “The Long Game”

The problem with “The Long Game” is that the targeting of the media doesn’t quite go far enough. After Rose and the Ninth Doctor jump far into the future, they come across a media outlet that’s broadcasting programming for Earth in an attempt to keep the people of the planet complacent. Its kind of a weak plot, with a monster that isn’t intimidating enough or make enough sense making it another not quite cooked relic of the Eccleston era.

12. 24 – “9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.”

After the first season of FOX’s groundbreaking action series, viewers were left to deal with the international drama inherent in Palmer becoming president. The writers show their view of snooty, truth seeking reporters early when, after failing to bribe him, President Palmer imprisons correspondent Ron Wieland in a government facility. In the world of “24,” you either let the brave, strong, patriotic men do their work or you’re going to jail.

“I won’t bury another Wayne” – a goodbye to Nolan’s Batman trilogy

I will always be fascinated by the attempts that “nerdy” subject material will make in order to be perceived as art. Memorably, video game fans attempted to rake Roger Ebert over the coals when he claimed (rightfully) that video games will never be art. I never questioned the logic of either side, as interesting points were often presented, but I was more intrigued by why these fans were obsessed with having one of their favorite mediums be recognized as something more than mindless entertainment.

There have been untold of thoughtless news stories focusing on the ways in which comic books have grown up, with many recent ones focusing on the financial success of darker comic book films such as 2008’s “Watchmen” adaptation and Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy. That being said, I have the same view about this as I did about the aforementioned video game discussion. Did we ever really need these movies to justify comics? Did Nolan’s movies accomplish anything in the culture at large that actually needed to be done?

For me the answer will always be a definitive no. Don’t get me wrong, I vastly enjoyed all of Nolan’s films, particularly “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight Rises” but everyone seems to be focusing on how Nolan’s work somehow legitimized something that had been missing. I just don’t think that was the case. Nolan’s films did a great job giving people exactly what they didn’t realize they wanted: a darker, excessively mature comic book movie that made non-comics fans feel like they understood comic books.

Because I’m an extremely petty and narcissistic person, I was deeply upset when people started saying that they liked Batman after the release of “The Dark Knight.” They didn’t understand the intricacies of the conflict between the Joker and Batman like I did. They didn’t understand the complex moral and ethical chess match for the soul of Harvey Dent like I did. To me, if you didn’t understand what made the film work so well under the hood, you didn’t really have the right to enjoy it like I did.

Nolan succeeded by making the labyrinthine power structures of Gotham City into something that the layman could understand. He didn’t dumb anything down, rather he introduced easily digestible nuggets of world-building that enabled anyone to understand the motivations of all the characters that made “The Dark Knight” work. People didn’t leave loving the film for what it was. They left thinking they had seen a movie that let them feel like they had it all figured out. “The Dark Knight” let viewers feel like they had just passed a test they didn’t study for.

In hindsight, I’m glad that people ended up liking Batman from “The Dark Knight.” I still think it may be the least satisfying and necessary film in the trilogy but it accomplished a very necessary end. Nolan was able to make a superhero film that used neither the structure nor the formulas of other films and was able to do something unique. It was an admirable work and an innovative one and it paved the way for the ambition of “The Dark Knight Rises” (which I will not be reviewing as to avoid spoilers).

Nolan excelled at making a trilogy of films that made its nerdy viewers feel like researchers and neophytes feel like experts. All the while, he was able to craft a brooding series focused on fear that never was bogged down into misery or undo complications. Its an admirable effort, one DC needed to learn. That being said, I still have concerns for his next work “The Man of Steel” which appears as if it could be attempting the same self-serious tone that the Batman films effortlessly attained. Hopefully, Nolan will be able to help director Zach Snyder make something that dodges the problems their other films have had. And hopefully, not feature too many slow motion bone crunches.

“I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be” – How Christopher Nolan made Frank Miller the least essential member of the Bat-canon

In my years of following Batman, the massive piles of issues, stacks of trades and meticulously calculated opinions on storylines, plot developments and the writers and artists that defined the character, I was sure of one thing.

Frank Miller was king.

I’ve written before that Miller has long been one of my idols in the comics industry. He wrote and drew violent, hard boiled and whip smart stories of brutal heroes who remained just slightly more ethical than the villains they took on. His twin masterpieces, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One” virtually defined the Bronze Age as well as the brooding and troubled hero that Bruce Wayne would become.

Looking back, it is abundantly clear as to why I so deeply associated with Miller’s take on the character. I grew up with comics desperately wanting to be taken seriously. I wanted one of my favorite stories to be viewed as something adult and interesting and something that I could show off. When Image was marketing little but unmitigated id with guns and massive cocks, I wanted a Batman that was doing all that he could just to survive for another day.

That makes it all somewhat surprising that the man to tear down one of the most innovative storytellers in comics was a filmmaker who distilled nearly 30 years of comics history into a smart, dangerous and hopeful movie. Christopher Nolan’s high profile and well received take on Batman was able to show off an adult take on comic films with “Batman Begins” but he really showed off what he wanted to do in “The Dark Knight,” most likely the movie he will be best remembered for.

Initially, it seems as if Nolan’s take on the character owes much to Miller’s hyper-violent Batman but that’s strictly a cover-up. Nolan embraced the darkness of Gotham in order to make a compelling product, yes, but he ultimately was setting up something even more ambitious, a Batman that genuinely is interested in bringing light to Gotham. I think most people forget about the quietest moments of “The Dark Knight” in favor of loving Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker but for me, Aaron Eckhart stole the show as Harvey Dent and his line, “the night is always darkest just before the dawn and the dawn is coming,” is the most telling moment of the film. For Nolan, chaos is temporary, Batman is forever.

I have my fair share of complaints about “The Dark Knight” but Nolan’s theory that darkness pushes people to justice rather than corruption pushing us to anarchy is a potent one. Whether it is the rejection of mutually assured destruction on the boats, the sainthood of Harvey Dent or Gordon’s sense of hopelessness as he destroys the bat signal, this is a film about people being pushed to the heights or heroism by the darkness they are forced to oppose.

Nolan made no secret of drawing extensively from Jeph Loeb’s “The Long Halloween” when he and David Goyer wrote the first two films of his trilogy and the evidence is clear, particularly in “The Dark Knight.” The partnership between Dent, Gordon and Batman, men and women powerlessly watching as an empire crumbles and the ethical ambiguity of fighting crime is all prominent in “The Dark Knight” and shows clearly the cost of fighting monsters. The end of Nolan’s masterpiece even parallels the ending of Loeb’s classic, with Batman and Gordon both wondering what the cost of fighting crime is when they’re forced to lose their brightest of heroes.

Through all of this, Nolan directly contradicts the world Miller created, prominently displayed in “The Dark Knight Returns.” For Miller, anarchy creates anarchy, spawning lawlessness and corruption in a never ending cycle of pain, misery and death. Nolan dares to be positive in the face of chaos. Where Miller’s Batman is forced to brutally murder his archnemesis in a fun house, Nolan’s leaves the Joker hanging. Miller’s Batman is defined by the never-ending battle against crime, Nolan’s knows that the a future is more important than the pain.

The words “I believe” loom over Loeb’s “The Long Halloween” and equally haunts Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Bruce Wayne believes in Gotham, Gilda Dent believes in Harvey Dent, Alberto Falcone believes in Holiday; these are hopeful men and women, even when they’re in the worst places possible. In comparison, the only word that looms over the works of Miller is “goddamn,” in sentences like “I’m the Goddamn Batman” and so many others.

As I prepare for the premier of “The Dark Knight Rises,” I’ve been going through many of the Batman classics and I’ve had to go back to many of Miller’s most well known works. Rereading “Year One,” “The Dark Knight Returns” and the fairly awful “All Star Batman and Robin,” I’ve been struck hard by how violent, ugly and pessimistic these stories are. In the last few years, great writers and artists such as Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, Frank Quietly, Paul Dini and Jeph Loeb have given us a Batman with pathos, one that is sometimes required to make the hard choices but isn’t defined by them. I don’t want a Batman who has to be one with the night, Nolan and many others have helped to show that the best Batman may be the one that may be able to walk away from the darkness.

No power, no responsibilities: “Amazing Spider-Man” is an engaging, occasionally thrilling super-powered failure

The one advantage that film will always have over comics is giving characters the visceral thrill of movement. With someone like Spider-Man, that lets viewers enjoy the thrill of watching someone fly through the air, slide across the ground and use the force of momentum to his constant advantage. Its exhilarating, visually interesting and thrilling to simply watch movement.

It is in these moments that “Amazing Spider-Man” makes a case for its’ own existence. Looking back on Sam Raimi’s films, the special effects haven’t aged particularly well and it was filmed more as an homage to the comics and pulp action than as a film that was meant to thrill with stunts. “Amazing Spider-Man” does a great job of bringing this energy back to the franchise but it loses all that momentum as Andrew Garfield struggles through lines, director Mark Webb directs without style or panache and the story struggles with telling anything that viewers haven’t heard before.

My biggest problem with the whole thing was that need to do the origin story again. Peter Parker’s transformation from nerdy kid to super-powered defender of New York City might as well be ingrained into our American mythos. Webb doesn’t do a lot new with it, playing Pete’s transformation mostly for laughs but he does brilliantly change the death of Uncle Ben to tie more closely to Peter than to Spider-Man, making Pete’s choices, personally and behind the mask, more defined by Ben’s death. Martin Sheen does a great job as Uncle Ben but he isn’t given a ton of screen time to make an impression.

And that’s really strange for a movie that drags over the two-hour mark without any real reason. The origin story takes over an hour to set up and it forces us to race through a disjointed plot by scientist Curt Connors, a not particularly deep antagonist from Dennis Leary’s Captain Stacy and the romantic subplot with Gwen, played by Emma Stone. No one really makes a huge impression and the generic plot doesn’t connect too well.

There are the building blocks of something that could make future installments more engaging. Webb makes the odd decision of keeping the fate of Pete’s parents a secret, tying it into Connor’s work at OsCorp. It is a strange move and Webb does little to make it one that we should care about. That’s a shame because the rest of the mysteries of the mysteries of the corporation are super engaging. The specter of Norman Osbourne looms over the film, both in the lobby of his building as well as in constant lines of dialogue. If Spider-Man’s greatest enemy is to show up before the series ends, he’s already had a great sense of mystery built up around him.

This lack of connection is what makes the movie’s exhilarating action sequences less memorable than they should be. Webb uses great tracking shots and close angles so that we can see every move Spider-Man makes as he zips and darts around his enemies but if we don’t care about the character or the people he’s fighting, then why does it matter?

It is clear that Webb was given the unenviable job of setting up a new franchise so that Sony could continue to hold onto the Spider-Man license for as long as possible. As such, he’s stuck having to keep Peter Parker in a very narrow world as well as having to keep the audience’s mind as far away from the unfairly maligned “Spider-Man 3” as possible. That’s why the film seems so narrow, so aimless and at times, so downright dull. Hopefully, like the superb “Spider-Man 2,” the inevitable sequel to this film will be able to build off the formidable base in order to craft a franchise that can not only keep the money coming in, but also keep fans interested.

“Papa don’t kill Terminators” – 7 ways “Tomb Raider” could have avoided the sexual assault trap

The constant videogame news stream has nearly gotten to the point of players knowing the whole game before they even pop a disc into their console. Unfortunately, this is ending up causing a lot of controversy that may have been otherwise overlooked. Let’s take the “Tomb Raider” rape scene for instance. In an interview with Kotaku, the unreleased game’s executive producer said that the intent was to reduce and debase Lara Croft, “turning her into a caged animal.” And of course, what better way to do that than attempted sexual assault.

I’ve hated on a lot of writers, directors and artists for the use of sexual assault as a plot device but really, I don’t think its an enormous problem when its treated with respect. The problem with the Tomb Raider controversy was the way that it nearly implied that the only way to turn the character into a killer was to make her a rape victim, rather than a determined, self made treasure seeker. Of course, even that can be problematic when we look back at what Lara Croft is primarily known for.

We all know that we don’t need female characters to be defined by trauma, particularly sexual trauma. With that being said, let’s find some other pop culture examples of female heroine’s origin stories and see how they’d work out in the Tomb Raider reboot’s premise. At the end of each entry, we’ll port the character traits over to Lara, assuming that the basics of the game, namely that it takes place on an island where the prime objectives are survival and escape, hold true.

1. Sarah Connor – Terminator

Where “Terminator 2” gets a lot of credit for its still amazing special effects, the first “Terminator” film is vastly forgotten, despite the incredible characterization of Connor. Her transformation from bystander, to confused participant, to terrorist, to robot killer, to savior of the future is a joy to watch and her moment of catharsis is so well earned. We, as viewers, know just as she does, that the future can be saved.

Characterizing Croft: Lara’s time on the island is guided by another, more experienced character. They eventually die, forcing Lara to become a killer and survivor in the unforgiving environment.

2. Kate Kane – Batwoman

Kate Kane would have been a hero even without putting on the cape. After quitting an illustrious career at West Point because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” she joined with her General father to hunt down the terrorists that killed her mother. Of course, things weren’t what they seemed and Kate was forced to kill her own sister, putting her into a tailspin that turned her into the brutal but compassionate Batwoman that’s become a fan favorite.

Characterizing Croft: Whoever ended up marooning Lara on the island may have some secret motives, particularly related to the Croft fortune. She has to figure out how to survive and get back home if she’s going to protect what’s hers.

3. Hitgirl – “Kick-Ass”

I hate Mark Millar’s “Kick-Ass” so much that it physically hurts me to even mention it. But, y’know, she’s raised by her dad to kill. Its really lame and exploitative.

Characterizing Croft: Someone else on the island teaches Lara to be merciless, killing everyone in her path. Hey, its not good but at least its not attempted rape.

4. Katniss Everdeen – “The Hunger Games”

Speaking of things that I really don’t like, the protagonist of the eponymous teen series at least had a strong base for a developing character. Katniss had trained to survive in the depressed village she grew up in and her development to one of the champions of the games required her to use those same hunting skills for murder.

Characterizing Croft: Lara’s trained well with her trademark dual pistols but she’s never had to turn the barrel on an actual person. To survive the trials of the island, she’s going to have to do just that.

5. Miranda Lawson – “Mass Effect 2”

Sure, Miranda was a cybernetically augmented cloned killer, but what motivates her abilities is a single minded desire to do what’s right by her more vulnerable sister. Her dedication to protecting the one innocent is even enough to help her break from Cerberus.

Characterizing Croft: Sure, maybe she would have been able to simply stay alive on the island. That’s not going to be enough when someone close to Lara disappears and she realizes that she’ll do anything to get them back safely.

6. Talia al Ghul – “Batman Incorporated”

I mentioned last week that I adored the way Grant Morrison finally gave Talia a motivation for her attack on the dark knight, a quest to find out who she is and with the goal of getting out from under the long shadow of her father.

Characterizing Croft: The best characters are the ones that have motivations that we can associate with. Lara’s potential quest to find out more about her lineage and where she fits into the Croft family could be a deeply compelling reason to help keep her alive on the island.

7. Ripley – “Alien”

Ripley doesn’t seem as if she’s going to be the one to survive the first encounter with the Xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” but she’s the only person to get out alive. How does she do it? Pretty simple really, she’s smarter, braver and more willing to make the harsh decisions than anyone else on board.

Characterizing Croft: You know what turns Lara into a killer? Necessity. She’s going to survive, going to do what she has to do to get off the island and she dares anyone to stop her.

“It wasn’t good for me either” – 10 decidedly queasy erotic scenes [Mildly NSFW]

Summer movies generally means you’re pretty much in for two things, lots of big explosions and lots of pretty people doing pretty people things. The problem with this, lots of the time, directors don’t exactly know how to balance actors that are used to doing action with scenes where we’re supposed to think they can be loving, caring characters. So, whether its intentional or not, here’s a quick rundown of movie scenes that’ll make you want to enter a dry spell.

1. Love in Zion – “The Matrix Reloaded”

There are few movies that more perfectly represent the bad summer movie sex phenomenon than “The Matrix Reloaded.” As Neo and Trinity sneak away from the dance party, they engage in awkward, grunting groping to the beat of bad ’90s acid house. The real problem here is the way the scene is shot. Most of the time, it looks like the pair are just clinging to one another and the two don’t look that different, making it even more strange and a little off putting. Weirdly, its one of the scenes that stands out the most in the second part of The Matrix trilogy and that’s probably not a good thing.

2. “Which one are you going to have sex with?” – “Eastern Promises”

As Nikolai tries to stay close to to the psychopathic Kirill, they stop by a brothel filled with heroin addled hookers. Kirill mercilessly grinds and licks on the vacant women, swilling vodka and yelling obsenities. Ultimately, he forces Nikolai to take one of the hookers to prove his alleigance to the family, leaving to a intentionally horrifying anal sex scene. Director David Cronenberg has always been interested in the way that nihilistic characters can make any intimate reaction into soulless congress and it’s done masterfully here.

3. Soulless Grinding – “Crash”

Cronenberg plays his hand in “Crash” right away, with several scenes of vacant empty love making in the first 10 minutes. Its all about the way that even when people claim to be at their most open and honest, they hide all their feelings and desires.

4. What time is it? – “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

Sidney Lumet’s best’s film in years also opens with a sex scene, although decidedly a bizarre one. As Marissa Tomei and Phillip Seymour Hoffman have sex and plan a vacation to Brazil, viewers are meant to be pondering at one point in the timeline this scene takes place, before the twisting hellish crime spree begins. Instead, viewers are probably just focused on watching Hoffman moving around sluggishly, having sex with Tomei from behind. Sure, we might be supposed to think this but it doesn’t make me less queasy.

5. “Mommy…” – “Blue Velvet”

In David Lynch’s landmark surreal noir, the depraved Frank Booth enters Dorothy’s apartment and interrupts her encounter with Jeffrey. He inhales some sort of gas, dry humps her and engages in some light sadomasochism with his orgasm being a confusing mess of screaming pleasure and unfathomable, murderous rage. Lynch isn’t trying to arrouse by any means. Instead, this is the first look at how dark the film’s protagonist is and how far he’s willing to go to get what he needs.

6. “That bastard!” – “Macgruber

“Macgruber” plays almost everything for a laugh but nothing more than the pair of brutally awkward sex scenes. Both are filled with ridiculous, over-the-top grunting, whining and painfully shot thrusting. The second scene, featuring Will Forte having sex with the ghost of his dead wife on her gravestone. Its shot the same as the previous scene but is done for even more laughs, with Forte showing more pleasure at finding the car that passed him earlier than after sex.

7. Its more about what happens before – “I Know Who Killed Me”

At some point in its development, someone probably thought “I Know Who Killed Me” was an erotic thriller instead of just a borderline incoherent mess. Its memorable for all the wrong reasons but the scene that stands out is an awkward sequence where the Lindsay Lohan doppelgänger has sex with her not-boyfriend, with her prosthetic leg plugged into a wall socket next to them. Things get even more awkward when, post-coitus, she flashes back to her time as a stripper where her finger once was psychically cut off and fell into her glove in a slushy of blood and gore. If that didn’t make sense, watching the movie isn’t really going to help you either.

8. The tip of fame – “8 Mile”

“8 Mile” offers a lot of dubious facts about what the road to fame is like but the strangest is that the height of fame equates to a handjob from a coke addled coworker. As Eminem begins to pick up fans in his already masturbatory semi-autobiographical film, he’s taken into a back room by Brittany Murphy looking her worst for some celebratory handie. Its strange, poorly shot and weirdly inappropriate for a movie that’s trying so desperately to be “hard.”

9. Wait, its about that? – “Sucker Punch”

The entirety of “Sucker Punch” is little more than Zach Snyder’s adolescent sexual fantasies and nowhere is this clearer than in his semi-explanation of Babydoll’s dancing to the fact that she’s being sexually abused in a brothel at the time. Its a gross, hard to watch movie that only gets filthier and harder to watch as you think about it.

10. No butter, please. – “Last Tango in Paris”

Its one of the most infamously unsettling moments of unsettling cinema as Marlon Brando sodomizes Maria Schneider, using butter for lubricant. It’s a disturbing scene, particularly after hearing more and more about the making, in which Schneider was extremely uncomfortable with performing the scene. In a movie that already feels dangerously close to eroticizing sexual assault and rape at times, this scene certainly doesn’t help the overall tone.

Summer Classes: Battle Royale

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, we examine the 2000 Japanese cult-smash, “Battle Royale.”

“You just have to fight for yourself. That’s just life…” – Mitsuko Souma, “Battle Royale”

On Patton Oswalt’s album “Werewolves and Lollipops,” the comedian discusses the moment where children finally realize that their parents aren’t always filled with wisdom and knowledge. Its a moment that he plays for laughs, but its also one of self discovery. Its the moment where the world’s gatekeepers are shown to be not all knowing, not all powerful and maybe, just maybe, fallible.

Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale” doesn’t as much focus on that moment of self discovery as much as the fallout of such. The film, loosely adapted from the manga of the same name, takes a gory, exploitative look at children on the cusp of adulthood and what they are willing and unwilling to do when they lose the guiding force of adults.

“Battle Royale” is where the premise for the teenage blood-bath began. For a variety of poorly explained reasons, the Japanese government institutes a series of laws in an attempt to reduce teenage crime and truancy, which force a randomly determined class of 9th graders to kill each other to the last man. Thankfully, there’s a helpful video to explain the rules.

From the moment the students leave the room to begin the battle, the film takes a considerably more episodic look at the various survivors, spending much of its running time focusing on a few unique killers and pacifists. Its to the film’s benefit and detriment. A few of the side characters, the sex obsessed Kazushi, the cheerleading squad and any number of the girls Mitsuko kills, all seem to have rich personalities and motives for their choices. What we get from them is interesting but maybe deserving of more content than we receive.

That being said, the episodic nature seems to be deliberate, comparable to other violent teenage entertainment. I was consistently reminded of “The Warriors,” with its’ cartoony themed enemies and picaresque plotting but “Battle Royale” is much more united in theme.

“Battle Royale” uses the premise of high school being like life and death, something we’ve seen much more often in recent years, and takes it to the natural conclusion. Characters work out their lost loves, deal with their childhood traumas, try to take revenge on those who wronged them and try to just slip quietly by. It isn’t a particularly trenchant look at the topic, with others such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mean Girls, and Lord of the Flies offering a more insightful look at the issue, but “Battle Royale sticks with viewers. Whether its the gore, the unique style, the memorable sociopaths or the smart ending, it all ends up working.

There are a fair share of problems holding it back. The version available on Netflix Instant Stream is the remastered cut, which adds additional CGI, a handful of confusing, unnecessary and pointless flashbacks, three epilogues that try to explain said flashbacks and a somewhat comical subtitle translation. Its generally pretty good but I couldn’t help but laugh at translations like “you always hurt my ass.”

There’s a point late in the film that crystalizes everything that “Battle Royale” was going for and it doesn’t involve a drop of blood. As Nakagawa and Kawada wait at the temple for the rendezvous, Nakawaga looks back on her life before being brought to the island, remembering that she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. As she stares into the woods, she says “I thought I was going to have children and grow old. Now, I don’t think that’s the case.” Much like so many people, myself included, think about the future as a phase of their life ends, the sense that she knew she could die, forces all of the students on the island to deal with their unfulfilled futures, the choices they’ve made and more importantly, the things that they never did. “Battle Royale” reduces those regrettable seconds into a flurry of gunfire, flying knives and an ever running river of blood.

Next Class: We board the Serenity to view the entirety of one of the most well loved cult TV shows of all time, Joss Whedon’s sci-fi epic, “Firefly.”