Ryan’s 12 Movies of Christmas

Christmastime is here again! And you may be wondering what to watch all month long. That is, unless you’re planning to watch Hallmark Channel or Freeform all month. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t follow the small town girl versus big city guy but falls for the small town heartthrob, then checkout this curation of titles! Some of my favorites are traditional Christmas movies, whilst others are more unconventional. But they all have one thing in common, the story, plot, and/or characters are significantly affected by Christmas.

With so many movies to watch at Christmastime, it’s hard to narrow down any list, much less down to 10! So, I thought I would go with 12 because of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Fun fact: Technically, the 12 Days of Christmas marks the time between Christ’s birth and the symbolic arrival of the magi (which, interestingly, wasn’t for about two years after the birth). The 12 Days of Christmas concludes with Three Kings Day in January. But I digress.

Here are my 12 Movies of Christmas (in no particular order)!

Batman Returns

Batman Returns, a Christmas movie? Why yes! Prologue to credits, the movie takes place at Christmas and we are reminded of it being Christmas throughout the movie. From the lighting of the Gotham City Christmas tree to the Bruce Wayne’s final line, “…peace on earth, good will towards men–and women,” Christmas is everywhere in this film! And who can forget the romantic exchange between Catwoman and Batman, “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it. But a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.” No Christmas is complete without Tim Burton’s arthouse film masquerading around as superhero movie!

I regard this movie as the most Batman movie ever! Even though the title character is only on screen for about 15-minutes. While Keaton’s Batman is the definitive, in my opinion, we don’t love this movie simply because of that, we love it because of the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer’s tour de force performance as Catwoman! And with good reason, she’s Incredibly sexy, seductive, slightly psycho, playful, and conniving. Pfeiffer’s seductive Catwoman is juxtaposed against Danny DeVito’s monstrous Penguin, and throw in the self-centered and ruthless Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, and you have a brilliant cast bringing to life.

Die Hard

Every year, the debate over whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie inspires many discourses on social media, and I am here to set the record straight. Indeed, Die Hard IS a Christmas movie. For many of the same reasons Batman Returns is a Christmas movie. The whole reason the plot of Die Hard exists is because of the office Christmas party! In fact, John McClane reminds us, “got invited to the office Christmas party by mistake. Who knew?” Moreover, it takes place on Christmas Eve. Not Thanksgiving nor the Fourth of July. It could have been set any week of the year, but wasn’t; it takes place at Christmas. And the soundtrack is full of Christmas songs.

This really is Bruce Willis’ most inconic role! He redefined what it meant to be an action hero! The fact he was an everyman made him more relatable than others and provided him with the platform to deliver the funny as well as the action. Moreover, we have one of the best villains of all time in the late Allen Rickman’s Hans Grüber. While he is incredibly ruthless, he is also highly entertaining. And it’s the balance between violent action and laughter that makes Die Hard a great film, and a fantastic Christmas movie.

A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart and Disney 2009 versions)

Charles Dickens’ titular Christmas ghost story was adapted early on in the days of cinema. In fact, there are silent movie adaptations dating back to 1901. And for good reason: it’s timeless! It has been adapted for big and small screens, radio, and stage more times than any other literary work. And because of that, everyone has his or her favorite versions of Scrooge’s powerful redemption story.

To boldly go where no Scrooge has gone before! Many notable actors over the decades have played the towering literary figure, but only one is also a Starfleet captain. Sir Patrick Stewart brought Scrooge to the small screen in the 1999 TNT movie-of-the-week. More than any other, Stewart’s portrayal as Scrooge is my favorite! Not only does the performative dimension of the character benefit from Stewart’s gravitas as a Shakespearean actor, but also benefits from his years as Captain Picard, completely with all the nuance that makes him the definitive Starfleet captain.

While Stewart’s Scrooge is my favorite Scrooge, my pick for best page to screen adaptation of the narrative as a whole is Disney’s A Christmas Carol from 2009. It’s an exhilarating visual array of breathtaking motion-capture animation with a touch of the macabre!

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it is an outstanding adaptation of the literary classic. One of the principle differences between this and other adaptations is just how supercharged it is with visual effects, intense chase scenes, and flying through the streets of London. But, as Scrooge himself acknowledged, spirits can do anything–they’re spirits. Zemeckis does not hold back on the dark elements of the story. After all, how else was Scrooge going be so scared that he would make a 180º and change his miserly ways??? He was scared by his future.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

While there have been several page to screen adaptations of Dr. Seuss’ masterful literary work, there is only one that I watch annually. And that is the original 1966 version narrated by Universal Monster veteran actor Boris Karloff. Some might argue that this version isn’t a movie, because it was on TV and only about 25mins in length. But I counter that argument with the simple fact that films are not films based upon run time, but based upon the structure of the narrative and intended purpose. Perhaps How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a short film, but a film nevertheless. After A Christmas Carol, no other fictional literary work has had a greater impact upon the Christmas season than HTGSC. At different seasons of life, we can all identify with both The Grinch and the Whos. Dr. Seuss wrote HTGSC as a critique on the increasing commercialization of Christmas. Something we can certainly identify with nearly 60 years later. While the decorations are beautiful and the giving and receiving of gifts is so much fun, Dr. Seuss reminds us through The Grinch, ” Maybe Christmas, he thought…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Black Christmas (1974)

Move over Ralphie for Bob Clark’s original Christmas story. Released in 1974 and predating John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years, Clark’s Black Christmas is actually the the first modern slasher film. It is one of the most terrifying horror films that I have ever watched. And it’s not because it’s particularly violent or gory, but because of its incredibly unsettling atmosphere caused by the mysterious, vulgar phone calls and the creepy POV of the slasher entering the sorority house during the Christmas party. That bit of dramatic irony paired with the sequence of disturbing events, work together to generate nightmare-inducing thoughts and imagery in the mind of the audience. If you’re looking for another holiday horror movie to add to your list of Christmas films to watch, then you definitely want to add this one to your lineup.

Although there are scenes that take place outside of the house, the horrific events largely take place inside a house. A house–more specifically–a home–where you should be and feel safe. The invasion, the penetration of safety is a terrifying prospect for anyone who has ever walked into their home alone wondering if someone may be there. The idea that someone may be in your house sticks with you long after the movie ends. And that is the power of the unnerving horror of Black Christmas.

Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night Deadly Night is a wildly uneven horror movie that jerks audiences around from the deadly serious to the highly campy. Seen as controversial when it released in 1984 to today, this is one bonkers Christmas horror movie, and one of the most unique out there. This movie takes the idea of simply plot, complex characters to all new dizzying levels. At its core, it’s about a traumatized young man going on a killing spree while dressed as Santa Claus. Not so unusual, right? But therein is where the film lulls you into a sense of expectation of that to which you may be more accustomed. After the simplistic beginning, the film goes off int he most bizarre and entertaining direction. You may ask yourself “what did I just watch,” but you won’t care because it was that much fun!

The Polar Express (2004)

This big screen adaption of the children’s literary (modern) classic The Polar Express is a complete delightful! Sure to thrill and stir the hears of audiences of all ages. While it may seem like another children’s Christmas movie on the surface, there are really two films here (1) the one for children and (2) the other for adults. For children, it’s a fantastic adventure, full of excitement, splendor, and prolific Christmas cheer. For adults, the film goes much deeper. The film forces adults to reconcile adult maturity and cynicism against childhood innocence and hope. Our central character finds himself–albeit begrudgingly–on a quest for a renewed belief in the spirit of Christmas. Along the way, he meets others on a magical train to the North Pole that are seeking their own goals finding or growing in confidence, courage, and humility. We never know if the adventure is merely in the mind of our central character, or if he really did board The Polar Express, but there is plenty of heart to perhaps help you hear the silver jingle bells of Christmas again.

The Christmas List (1997)

My mom and I watch this every year together when I go home over Christmas break! We were first introduced to it on the (then) Family Channel, and caught it on TV for many years thereafter (even as the Family Channel got absorbed by other companies. Eventually it wasn’t shown anymore, so I bought it on eBay. So, if you want to watch it, you’ll need to find it on eBay or perhaps you can catch it on YouTube. But I digress.

Mimi Rogers stars as Melody Parris, a perfume sales professional at Montgomery Ward style department store. When her best friend places her Christmas list in Santa’s mailbox, Melody suddenly begins to get everything on the list, but it doesn’t always turn out how she imagined it would. The Christmas List is an incredibly uplifting Christmas movie that is sure to bring joy to all those that put in a little effort to find it. It’s especially relatable for those of us that are in our 30s and still single, perhaps even waiting for our lives to start. When we realize that the waiting for life to start, has become our life. Sure, the plot is a bit whimsical, but that’s part of what makes this a fun movie! It’s also quite funny! And not in an ironic way, genuinely hilarious at points. You don’t want to miss out on sharing in the journey as Melody discovers the spirit of Christmas and refocuses her life in a more productive direction!

Krampus

Twas truly a nightmare before Christmas! What would happen if Charles Dickens, Dr. Seuss, and the Brothers Grimm would combine their unparalleled literary social commentary and storytelling abilities for a Christmas movie? The answer is Krampus. Based on an actual legend of German origin, Krampus is the antithesis of Santa Claus. Whereas this narrative is not based solely on the legend per se, many of the insidious characters are rooted in the legend. In an unconventional way, this movie highlights what Seuss and Dickens wrote about in their timeless tales: Christmas becoming more commercialized and about selfish material gain rather than the spirit of sacrifice, giving, and relationships. Just like Scrooge was so terrified emotionally and physically by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come, that he believed in Christmas with all his heart, you may also call your behavior, this holiday season, into question as a result of coming face to face with Krampus. Directed by Michael Dougherty, of Trick r Treat fame, you don’t want to miss adding Krampus to your Christmas lineup!

Last Christmas (2019)

Paul Feig’s Last Christmas is a heartwarming Christmas movie that is surprisingly deep and thought-provoking. It stars everyone’s favorite Mother of Dragons Emilia Clark as our central character of Kate! Follow Kate on a transformational journey that explores how constantly playing the victim and blaming everyone else for your problems can lead to destructive behavior.

I appreciate the unconventional approach to Christmas movies this one takes. It doesn’t hold back on the cynicism that many people have about life or about the holiday season. The movie depicts true-to-life people that experience real struggles within the family unit and from the outside. In addition to the interpersonal relationship conflict, Kate’s family is also from the former Yugoslavia. This is an important subplot in the movie because the movie seeks to comment on the prejudice that some refugees-turned-citizens experience, especially in the midst of political turmoil. Like I said, this Christmas movie is surprisingly deep.

The most powerful Christmas story ever (other than the Nativity) is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and why is that? Because it’s a story of redemption. If Scrooge can be redeemed, we can all be redeemed. Kate is our Scrooge in this story. Perhaps that is why so many people love it, it parallels A Christmas Carol in beautiful ways, yet it doesn’t–on face value–appear to be an interpretation of it. Do yourself a favor and plan to make Last Christmas part of your holiday season.

Gremlins

Can’t you hear that infectious theme music by Jerry Goldsmith now?!? Joe Dante’s Gremlins is one of the most brilliant horror comedies ever! And I say comedy because the entire movie is played for laughs! All the way down to how a young lady learns there is no Santa Claus. The campy violence and juxtaposition between Christmas imagery and horror is uncanny! Lightning in a bottle, that’s precisely what this is. It’s as if Joe Dante and Spielberg said “let’s take the idyllic, cozy suburban setting from It’s a Wonderful Life and use it as the backdrop of a creature feature! The setting and characters in it manage to simultaneously be timeless, nostalgic, and ridiculous.

Like Die Hard and Batman Returns, this movie could have taken place any any other time of year, but Christmas was selected because there is no time of year that is more idyllic than Christmas. It really is an ingenious movie! Gizmo, the cuddly magwai, yanks at our heartstrings, all the while, fantastic suspense is building because we know the rules. And when the gremlins hatch, the idyllic town becomes a wacky, satirical, spectacle of total chaos.s! But even in the darkest moments, Dante finds a way to increase the levity so nothing is ever too dark. At its core, Gremlins is a satirical spin on materialism, but it never forgets to have fun and thrill audiences all at the same time.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Frank Capra’s masterpiece is timeless! I can’t imagine a Christmas going by without watching it with my parents. What’s funny, is that this movie is considered by many to be the greatest Christmas movie of all time, but most of the movie doesn’t even take place at Christmas. It starts at Christmas and ends at Christmas (although it is the same day), but most of the narrative takes place at other times of year in George Bailey’s past.

Films concerning suicide or suicidal thoughts are not new today, but back in the 1940s, it was nearly unheard of. Much like Gremlins pits the idyllic suburban Christmas backdrop against violent (yet playful) creatures, Philip Van Doren Stern’s screenplay combined with Capra’s genius work together to juxtapose real-world, relatable feelings against the most wonderful time of the year. Capra’s film would not be the classic that it is without the outstanding cast that brings the story to life for the screen. I love how the film takes audiences on a rollercoaster through conflicts big and small. Paired with visceral mood swings the film gets to the very heart of what it means to be human–and the value every life has on this earth. While it would have been easy for the film to maintain a somber tone throughout, it is not without comedy. The end result is a supremely entertaining film that takes that which is most relatable and simple to craft a compelling narrative. No matter what one faces, “no man is alone whom has friends…”

Honorable Mentions

The Rankin-Bass Classics

No Christmas movie list would be complete with out mentioning the Rankin-Bass claymation and traditionally animated mid-20th century classics! The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty, Rudolph, Kris Kringle, they’re all here! Chances are, you make one or more of the Rankin-Bass television specials part of your Christmas every year. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is actually the longest continually airing television special in TV history! Outside of Frosty and a new others, the majority of the RB specials are claymation, which is an artform that is nearly gone, save the recent Pinocchio and 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings. It’s not simply witnessing the hand of the artist in these specials that make them–well–special, it’s the uncanny ability for each of these to transport you back to your childhood home, sitting in your PJs with hot cocoa or a bowl of popcorn, watching the television specials with your family or friends. RB’s love of the whimsical, relational, and spiritual dynamics of Christmas rings loud and clear in each of their specials.

Violent Night (late add, but had to mention!)

Highly entertaining and hilarious! Better watch out burglars, Santa’s coming to town. Universal Pictures’ Violent Night hits theatres this week. And you don’t want to miss this fantastically fun horror-adjacent Christmas action movie, which is equal parts Die Hard and Home Alone with some Krampus thrown in for good measure–and it that still has plenty of Christmas spirit! Not since Krampus have we had such unconventional Christmas movie in cinemas. Not quite unsettling enough to be a horror movie, but gorier than a typical action movie, Violent Night sits comfortably in the middle (but a little closer to action). One of the things that makes both Gremlins and Krampus work so well is that the violence is played for laughs, and audiences will find that to also be true in this movie. Even though the violence is prolific, it is schlocky and even campy, at times. Despite the creative, gory kills and pulse-pounding action sequences, Violent Night takes times to impart valuable lessons in family, hope, and even redemption. It simultaneously acknowledges how hard the holidays can be on folks that have become disillusioned with Christmas and yet manages to show the importance of never losing hope in the magic of Christmastime. Even though we may not know how it works; it’s important not to allow cynicism of this world to overpower the optimism of hope the holidays bring. With a solid screenplay, effective direction, and entertaining kills, Violent Night is an instant modern classic

Merry Christmas!!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“Birds of Prey” Full Movie Review

Harley Quinn Returns. Warner Bros. and DC’s Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (from hereon out Birds of Prey, haha) is energetic, entertaining, and electrifying! Margot Robbie is a knockout! This out of this world comicbook movie is well written and directed, and even has an intimate feel in the foreground on the backdrop of outrageous, larger than life chaos. Par for the course in Gotham. Fortunately for this movie, most of the footage from the trailer was taken from the first few minutes of the movie. So, you never feel as though you’ve seen whole thing in the trailer. If Batman Returns and Deadpool had a baby, and that baby’s nanny was Kill Bill, then this is the movie that you would get! It has the brilliant camp and production design factors with the sass and action of the former two, along with the strength and determination of the latter. A winning combination, considering that Batman Returns is the best Batman movie of all time (and yes, I will die on that hill). While the trailer may make this seem like an ensemble cast for most of the movie, it really is about Harley Quinn with the other characters coming into play more significantly in the latter half of the movie. This was a strategic move by the writer and director in order for the the movie to be driven by the fallout of the breakup between Harley and Mr. J, that anti-hero anarchist spirit, and high energy optimism that defines Quinn. What we have here is a good, solid story. Yes there is the theme of female empowerment and sisterhood, but that is on the nose. The real power of this movie, and why Suicide Squad cannot even hold a candle to it, is the thoughtful story, precision plotting, and character driven conflict with plenty of reactions. Birds of Prey takes what we have grown accustomed to in comicbook movies (both DCEU and Marvel), and places it in that semitruck at the beginning of the movie, then watches as all the rules and tropes explode as the truck collides into the chemical plant! No tortured psyches, skybeams, sense of duty, or derivative action sequences here, Birds of Prey delivers explosive action and hilarious antics! All this and more awaits you in this beautiful mess of a movie.

It’s open season on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) when her explosive breakup with the Joker puts a big fat target on her back. Unprotected and on the run, Quinn faces the wrath of narcissistic crime boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), his right-hand man, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), and every other thug in the city. But things soon even out for Harley when she becomes unexpected allies with three deadly women — Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez)–in their respective efforts to locate the expert pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). (IMDb summary)

If Quintin Tarantino was to direct a comicbook movie, this is precisely the kind of movie that he would write and direct. Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) certainly seem to have channeled their love of the films of Tarantino and Waititi in the development the outstanding screenplay for Birds of Prey. It has the non-linear storytelling and violence of Tarantino paired with the tongue-in-cheekness and characterizations of Waititi. From journalist and graduate student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts to directing a major motion picture for global brands such as Warner Bros. and DC, Yan is certainly a director to watch as she continues to grow in her career. She is the kind of director that DC needs in order to develop comicbook/superhero movies that are highly engaging yet have a great deal of heart. Although I did not know the screenwriter of Bumblebee was also the writer for this movie, in retrospect, I can completely see it! Hodson knows how to craft a thoughtful story in the middle of explosive action, all the while, keeping the focus on the characters whose conflict drives the story. On the surface, this may seem like an action-driven story, but in all reality it is character driven at its core.

While some may find (and have found) the narrative exposition and nonlinear storytelling to be distracting, I find that the combination makes perfect sense for how the plot is being laid out for us; it works very well for this movie. There are similarities between the tone of Deadpool and Birds of Prey but they are different movie experiences. Each uses narrative exposition, but use that tool in different ways. Deadpool engages in breaking the fourth wall in a very Mystery Science Theatre or RiffTrax way, whereas Harley Quinn uses it in a diegetic manner. Same tool, but expressed very differently. I greatly appreciate how Quinn used this narrative device in the same way that you and I tell stories to our friends. How often have you found yourself telling recalling an event from your life and telling that story to your friends, and you get to a point at which you realize you need to preface something, and then jump back to setup that point? Probably a lot of the time! I know I certainly do. It’s like you’re so excited to get to a point in the story, but then you forget that your friends need to know what happened to setup why its important or significant. And that is precisely what Quinn is doing with her narration and what the director and writer did with the setup of the main action plot. The method that the story is laid out in front of us is a very organic way of oral storytelling. When you orally communicate a story, there is no edit button, back space, page jumps, or anything else that we use in writing to linearly tell a story (linearly being the most conventional). So yes, it is nonlinear, but otherwise it would not feel as relatable or natural.

We have both wonderfully entertaining performances and well-developed characters! The strength of this movie is built upon the characters and the conflict therein. While we do spend most of the movie with Quinn, we are methodically introduced to key characters that effect the main action plot subplot along the way. Quinn’s external goal is to retrieve the Bertinelli diamond, which is driven by her internal need for a relationship. While I won’t go into details as to how she eventually retrieves the famed diamond, as I do not want it get into spoiler territory, I will comment on her internal need for a relationship that drives the main action plot. She is longing for a relationship after Mr. J. dumps her. She feels an emptiness inside. Ironically, she desires to belong to something or someone. Ironic in that a harlequin lives to serve. What she could never have known is that she would find the sense of belonging in the relationships she forms with our supporting cast of characters that she encounters along the journey to retrieve the diamond. What she finds is NOT a romantic relationship, but a sisterhood that provides her with all the love she needs and a group to whom she can love in return. None of us (or most of us, anyway) want to be alone; we want relationships in our lives. Many find that through romantic relationships while others find it through close friendships. Sometimes both, if you’re fortunate in that way. Between her pet hyena, a pick pocket, and the newly formed group Birds of Prey, Harley Quinn’s internal need for relationship is met beautifully! It’s also this subtext that creates that intimate story amidst the backdrop of chaos.

I mentioned Batman Returns in my opening paragraph. And if you’ve seen the movie, you may be wondering why and where does Birds of Prey have elements that nod to and remind me of Tim Burton’s masterful Batman movie. Clearly, if you are wondering, then you (1) haven’t seen the greatest of all Batman movies or (2) have forgotten about the incredible art of Batman Returns. For starters, Quinn’s costume choices are very much Burton-inspired and there are several moments of dialogue that feel right out of Returns. What we love about Batman Returns is the camp factor and over-the-topness of the costuming and production design. Furthermore, there is one series of scenes in particular that are ostensibly taken right out of Returns. And this isn’t a spoiler. The production design, architecture, and set decorating in the Amusement Pier scene at the end of Birds of Prey are heavily inspired by the defunct zoo setting (Penguin’s lair) in Batman Returns. It is a fantastic combination of German expressionism and French surrealism. I absolutely love the design of the fun house and the execution of the explosive showdown! Birds of Prey strikes a perfect balance of bringing old and new fans alike together for a great comicbook inspired movie!

I highly recommend this movie to all fans of comicbook or superhero movies! Whether you are a DC or Marvel fan, or the rare DCMarvel fan, I feel strongly that you will fall in love with this movie. Although it is still incredibly fresh on my mind, and hasn’t had proper time to steep, presently I feel that it may wind up at No.3 of all-time favorite comicbook/superhero movies for me with No.1 being Batman Returns, No.2 Batman 89, and No.3 Birds of Prey.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“I hate that word [comeback]. It’s a return! …”

“…a return to the millions of people who have never forgiven me for deserting the screen.” A powerful line from the iconic Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard–but–this also rings true for Michelle Pfeiffer, who is returning to the big screen following a self-imposed exile from Hollywood. After a long “famine” (the term Darren Aronofsky attributes to the Oscar-nominated actress’s absence), Pfeiffer is making a triumphant return to the big screen, and in BIG ways. Whether your favorite Pfeiffer performance is her universally critically acclaimed interpretation of Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns or as Elvira Hancock in Scarface, cinephiles and fans alike can agree that the big screen has missed Pfeiffer’s bold screen presence and incredible beauty. What makes Pfeiffer unique in the world of cinema, is her ability to be incredibly ballsy and completely vulnerable all at the same time. Few actresses possess the ability to be a tomboy one minute and the portrait of sensuality the next. Why would one of the brightest stars in Hollywood in the 1980s and 90s slip away from the silver screen so conspicuously? The long and short of it is she desired to make time to raise her children. In a rare interview with Vanity Fair, Pfeiffer stated that she required so many schedule and location accommodations for her to continue to be a working-mother that she became “unhireable.” Now that her children are grown and out of the house, she is ready to get back to work!

While many may be focussing on Pfeiffer’s return to the big screen–to movies that are a match for her talent–the larger picture here could be lost. Approaching 60, Pfeiffer is at the age when many actresses are either not hired as often and/or are placed in grandmother roles; however, she is busier than ever! And in high profile roles in highly anticipated films. For the fans of her brilliant performance as the definitive Catwoman, she is returning to the superhero genre in the new Ant-Man and more recently she commanded the screen in Murder on the Orient Express. Pfeiffer also told Variety that should would very much like to reprise her role as Catwoman in a future film but not go to the lengths she had to before (citing placing the real bird in her mouth and the iconic sexy, but uncomfortable costume). Pfeiffer’s return to the screen is a testament that Hollywood is beginning to show that older established actresses are still bankable.

Pfeiffer comments that being an empty-nester has provided her with the push to get back out there. She wasn’t even sure that she would be able to step right back into acting because she often remarks that she sometimes feels like a fraud because she never received any formal training. Her rise from grocery store clerk to household name happened nearly overnight. Just goes to show that even though formal training and education are valuable tools in a show business professional’s tool belt, formal education itself does not an acclaimed actor make. Part of preparing to return to the superhero genre in Ant-Man and Wasp has her pouring over old comic books to prepare for her highest profile role in more than a decade. It is clear from the few interviews Pfeiffer grants (she is self-admittingly scared of interviews) that her favorite role in her career IS her role as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Even today, she says that she is met by fans, young and old, of her work in that role. She quickly gives credit to Tim Burton who was highly instrumental in providing exceptional direction and a creative genius in the, what many critics call the, Batman movie that typifies the franchise. So, her return to the superhero movie genre is one that is highly anticipated.

While she is excited to get back out there, she still admits that she will continue to be choosy in her roles. She is an actress that has to feel a connection to a character in order to bring it to life. Whereas before she turned down roles in Silence of the Lambs and Thelma and Louise because of making sure she had time to be a mom, first and foremost, she will continue to exhibit her desire to not simply get out there and act again, but thoroughly enjoy the characters she plays. Part of Pfeiffer’s timeless charm is her ability to be 100% sexy feminine and 100% humorous tomboy at the same time. It’s this dichotomy that gives Pfeiffer her unique blend of charisma and screen presence that commands your attention and makes her memorable. Of all the qualities that aid in creating the standout actress that many of us love, she is equally humble and still learns from those actresses like Judi Dench and others that she continues to admire.

This past Halloween, I did my best to emulate her iconic Catwoman costume!

 

The Art of BATMAN RETURNS (1992): a retrospective movie review

By far, still the sexiest Batman movie! With the reviews from fans and critics alike regarding this weekend’s release of the highly anticipated Suicide Squad ranging anywhere from horrible to moderately enjoyable, I decided to rewatch and review the Batman movie that is still considered by many, and yours truly, to be the most Batman out of all of them. Released in 1992, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns boasts a star-studded cast complete with the German expressionistic filmmaking style and gothic production design often associated with this iconic superhero franchise. The brilliance of Batman Returns can be witnessed in recognizing that Tim Burton provided audiences with an art house film masquerading around as a superhero Hollywood blockbuster. From the architecture to the costumes and cinematography, this Batman movie has more in common with art than a movie. Not that movies lack artistic appeal, quite the contrary–after all cinema is the art of visual storytelling; but there is a certain artistic charm that surrounds Batman Returns uncommon in other superhero movies. In other words, the focus was more on the art of a Batman story than the plot. Many comic book enthusiasts also regard this installment (as well as its predecessor) as very close to the comics in plot and visual design. Furthermore, hands down, the most memorable element of the movie is Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and with good reason. Incredibly sexy, seductive, slightly psycho, playful, and conniving. Juxtaposed against Danny DeVito’s monstrous Penguin, Michael Keaton’s timeless Bruce Wayne/Batman, throw in the self-centered and ruthless Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, and you have a brilliant cast bringing to life iconic characters under the direction of a then-visionary director before he became a parody of himself.

Beneath the streets of Gotham City lies a world of water, waste, and The Penguin. Abandoned by his wealthy parents, Oswald Cobblepot is raised by the Penguins of the former Gotham City Zoo. He grows to resent the world above and the blue bloods of society that cast aside those who they deem as undesirable. High above the sewers, Selina Kyle is nervously tending to her boss’ every need. Not the most meticulous secretary–oh sorry, assistant–she has failed her ruthless boss Max Shreck for the last time, and gets shoved out a window to be nursed back to life by cats. Both abandoned and left to die, but return to life with revenge and warped justice on the mind. During the annual tree lighting ceremony, The Penguin and his henchmen thwart the celebratory atmosphere with gunfire, looting, chaos, and violence. Valiantly defending the good citizens of Gotham, Batman fights off the havoc that The Penguin with which The Penguin is enveloping the city. However, all the public knows is the good, kindhearted Penguin with a love of public service? Although initially setting out to kill Batman, in an ironic twist of fate, sparks begin to fly between Batman and Catwoman AND Bruce and Selina. Revenge, love, violence, and trademark gadgets. This Batman movie has it all.

Even the most dedicated Batman fans will admit that this film certainly has cinematic problems. But why are the flaws in this movie somehow forgiven but the flaws in Batman v Superman or this weekend’s Suicide Squad held against them respectively? Rewatching this Batman movie reveals that it is likely held is such high regard by superhero movie buffs and fans of the comics alike due to of the A-list talent and the artistic or stylistic approach to this story. Because the focus of the film is definitely on the art versus the plot, narrative flaws can easily be overlooked as the experience of this film rests upon the feel and look of everything more so than the plot in and of itself. It is rare for a superhero film to also be so incredibly artistic. And that is why this particular Batman movie stands unique amongst all the others that have been produced over the decades. The passion for visual design is seen in every shot, every costume, and in the sexiness of the interpersonal relationships between the characters. Just like with interpretive art, various interpretations of tone, feel, message, and impression can be found throughout Batman Returns. Regarding the tone of the film, it repeatedly switches from a campy melodrama to tragic love story to action/adventure. In many ways, this film is representative or even self-reflexive of cinema from the 1930s to the 1950s. Paralleling the film’s repeated switches of tone and pace, the characters also change personalities, demeanors, and motives. Moreover, control over situations constantly changes hands throughout the movie. Whether as the audience or a bystander in the movie, it is difficult, at times, to discern the villain from the hero. The magic of this Batman movie is that it bridges the boundaries of so many different interpretations of the Batman universe over the years into a film that embodies the art of filmmaking.

Not a direct follow up to the successful 1989 Batman, this installment is often celebrated as the most Batman of the Batman movies; it’s the one that somehow manages to reflect more about the hero and his world than any other on-screen representation he’d enjoyed before or since. It’s a celebration of the Dark Knight that succeeds, in large part, by its refusal to go too dark, but remains off-kilter and uncomfortable, just enough, all the way through. Likewise, the villains are psychotic, larger than life, and legendary. From the tragic character of The Penguin thrown into the river in a warped Moses fashion on Christmas to the beaten down mousy secretary turned bondage clad 1990s feminist Catwoman, Batman Returns is a quintessential Tim Burton film before he just went way too bizarre in recent years. Both The Penguin and Catwoman can be seen as two different mirrors for our caped crusader. Penguin represents a child of wealth who was abandoned by his parents (not unlike our Bruce Wayne) and Catwoman represents the sensual side of Batman that we seldom get to see but we know it’s there because he is human. The combination of characters, settings, and behaviors makes this film a fun, erotic, and entertaining Batman movie. The stratified emotions, experiences, and interpretations provides audiences with a dynamic story that plays out beautifully on screen. In fact, the film is so entertaining to watch that you will likely forget that the pacing, plot, and structure of the film lacks critical value.

If you are leery about spending money to watch Suicide Squad this weekend, I suggest rewatching–or for some of you watching for the first time–Tim Burton’s artistic masterpiece Batman Returns. If for no other reason, you will enjoy the brilliantly sexy Catwoman, tragic monstrous Penguin, and the definitive Batman/Bruce Wayne as played by Michael Keaton. Such fantastic actors and characters!

Ryan teaches Film Studies and Screenwriting at the University of Tampa and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida and Indie Film Critics of America. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter. If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with him.

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