Vanity Fair recreates Alfred Hitchcock.

Back in 2008, Vanity Fair published a photoshoot recreating iconic moments and scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest movies, but with some of Hollywood’s popular stars. I’ve only just seen this photoshoot and felt like sharing because, well, I love Hollywood, and I love Hitchcock!

If you click on the images, you can view a high-def version.

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Robert Downey Junior and Gwyneth Paltrow fill the roles of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in a recreation of To Catch A Thief.

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Scarlett Johansson tries her hand at Grace Kelly, while Javier Bardem fills in for Jimmy Stewart, in a recreation of Rear Window.

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Now it’s Charlize Theron’s turn to be Grace Kelly, in a replication of Dial M For Murder. I confess, I don’t know who the actor behind her is.

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Naomi Watts gets glamorous, filling in for Tippi Hedren, in a recreation of Marnie.

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Keira Knightley and Jennifer Jason Leigh recreate an image from Rebecca, the only Hitchcock film to get an Oscar nom for Best Picture.

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Emile Hirsch and James McAvoy play the leads in my personal favourite Hitchcock movie, Strangers On A Train.

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Renee Zellweger is almost unrecognisable in a recreation of Vertigo, recently voted the greatest film of all time.

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Tang Wei, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Omar Metwally, Josh Brolin, and screen legends Eva Marie Saint and Julie Christie recreate Lifeboat.

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Jodie Foster replaces Tippi Hedren in this memorable moment from The Birds.

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One of my favourite actresses, Marion Cotillard, recreates Hitchcock’s most famous “kill scene”, from Psycho.

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Seth Rogen replaces Cary Grant in this iconic still from North By Northwest.

Why 'Batman: Mask of the Phantasm' is the best Batman movie.

1992 was a good year for Batman. He’d just been realised on the big screen in Batman Returns and Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series was proving a hit with critics and audiences alike (indeed, BTAS could be the best adaptation of Batman to date). As BTAS reached the end of the first season, Warner Brothers ordered a straight to DVD feature length movie from the creative team. They decided to tell a story away from the general Rogues Gallery, and make it a love story, since most Batman stories didn’t deal with that kind of material.

Early in the production stage, the project changed from a straight to DVD film to one scheduled for release in cinemas. Due to the last minute change, the film was a box office bomb and largely unseen. But critics and the audiences that did see it viewed Mask of the Phantasm favourably. Released in 1993, alongside The Lion King and The Nightmare Before Christmas, it didn’t get the audience it deserves. Which is a damned shame, because it’s arguably the finest Batman film ever made.

The animated Batman of the 1990s is closer to the comics than other screen adaptations, spiritually similar to Christopher Nolan’s gritty and realistic vigilante, but still retaining that element of the fantastic that brought Tim Burton’s films to life. Mask of the Phantasm eschews the fantastical elements for a somewhat dark, gritty and introspective movie, exploring the dichotomy of Bruce Wayne and Batman and his motivations to become the Caped Crusader, while ignoring the ‘origins’ and telling a solid story in the process.

While Christopher Nolan would call his Dark KnightHeat with psychopathic clowns”, Mask of the Phantasm is akin to Citizen Kane. Both films tell much of the story in flashback, and invoking a film noir feeling of foreboding and dread while exploring a powerful, tormented man and his emotional struggles. But while Citizen Kane followed Charles Foster Kane to his destruction, Mask of the Phantasm follows Bruce Wayne on his path to becoming a hero.

The plot revolves around the Phantasm, a Grim Reaper-like masked vigilante who is murdering mobsters in Gotham. Due to his resemblance to the Batman, both the police and the mob are hunting him down, and he is forced to clear his name. But the real focus is on Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Andrea Beaumont, the girl who got away, who’s just returned to Gotham City. Unlike the extreme relationship with Selina Kyle, and the somewhat dull romance he has with Rachel Dawes, his love affair with Andrea feels genuine.

They meet in the cemetery where both of their parents are dead. Unlike Bruce, who becomes obsessed with the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Andrea has made peace with their deaths, and serves as a sign that Bruce might be able to move on. Not a femme fatale or a damsel in distress, Andrea is a believable woman who connects with Bruce on an emotional level - so much so that Bruce is even willing to renounce his mission to fight crime in Gotham.

Many Bat-fans believe that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the real man. Obviously, he wasn’t born the Batman, he became the Batman, and the process of the Batman taking over Bruce completely is seen here. We didn’t really see that in other films, even Nolan’s exceptional Batman Begins, and it’s fascinating. This film was taking a psychologically complex and open approach to Batman’s psyche a decade before Nolan got his hands on the Bat.

The heart of the story is Bruce’s choice: be at peace with Andrea, or follow “the mission”. Of course, we know how it ends; it’s about the journey. Bruce struggles between happiness or vengeance. There’s a great scene during a stormy night, where Bruce kneels at his parents’ graves, begging his parents to show him which path to take. He wants to give up his “plan” so he can be happy, but that would mean breaking his promise to avenge his parents.

“It doesn’t hurt so much anymore”, he says. That all-encompassing pain isn’t quite as all-encompassing, but he chooses it anyway. He deliberately rejects happiness and goes down a darker path. His parents would want him to reject those years of training and the obsession with crime for the love of a woman. That’s a tragic element to the character that hasn’t been seen in, basically, any other version. Nolan’s Batman might have had a chance at happiness with Rachel Dawes, but she took that chance away. This was Bruce’s choice. And that makes it all the more painful.

And it only gets worse. Bruce asks Andrea to marry him, but after the mob attacks her family, she returns the engagement ring, leaves a Dear John letter, and disappears. Heartbroken, Bruce dons the Batman costume for the first time. His happiness was destroyed. Bruce Wayne dies the moment Andrea leaves. And thus the Batman is born. When superheroes don their costumes, it’s supposed to be a triumphant moment. But the chilling music, and Alfred’s “My god!” say it all. This is not a good thing.

However, Andrea has changed too, when she returns to Gotham. As most people probably guessed, Andrea is the grim reaper vigilante, the Phantasm. How she became the Phantasm is never addressed, but we know she’s back to kill all the mobsters responsible for the death of her father. Death has taken over her life, so she dons the costume of death. If someone who made peace with the death of their parent could still become a murderous vigilante, then Bruce never really had a chance at happiness, did he? That’s another sobering point the film makes.

One of the classic Batman arguments is addressed through Andrea’s violent acts. She isn’t evil, but is the villain because she opposes Bruce philosophically. He’s a hero, and she’s a vigilante. But is Batman’s stance on killing better than Andrea’s willingness to kill those who commit murder? Is she a better hero because she will cross the one line that Batman won’t? She murders, but she only murders the bad guys. Is she a hero using extreme methods or a villain using a tragic past as justification for her crimes?

The climax takes place in the ruins of the World’s Fair, a place supposed to symbolise the bright hopes of the future, and a place Bruce and Andrea visited while engaged. But now the place has fallen to ruin. Time has forgotten it and the future is bleak. But even better is that the World’s Fair is the lair of both Batman’s greatest enemy, and the man who ruin Andrea’s life by killing her parents, for they are one and the same. Mask of the Phantasm’s final ace up its sleeve is the brilliant way it includes the greatest villain of them all, The Joker.

Including the Joker further connects Bruce and Andrea symbolically, while also proving The Joker will forever be a plague on Batman’s life. Despite all the innocents The Joker has killed, Batman still stands between him and Andrea. His code of ethics prevents him being killed. It might make more sense to kill The Joker and save future lives, but he won’t cross that line. The Joker has effectively turned former lovers into ideologically opposed vigilantes of the night. She desperately wants to kill The Joker, to kill the pain she feels, but Bruce won’t let her, and any slight glimmer of a hopeful future they had is crushed.

It’s a tragic story, but it’s not all tragedy. Outside of the wonderful character development - brought to life by the always excellent Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and The Joker, with Dana Delaney (Body of Proof) playing Andrea Beaumont - there are gorgeous visuals, fantastic music, and some well executed animated action sequences (in particular, the climax at the World’s Fair), proving that animation can truly be home to the most imaginative action in cinema and television.

It has everything a Batman story should. Great characters, great action, great villains, and a great storyline. And it told this great story without major alterations to the Batman mythos, which both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan were forced to do, rather than risk their creative visions and comfort zones (Burton perhaps too fantastical, Nolan perhaps too realistic, to truly capture the Batman). Paul Dini (behind the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games) and Bruce Timm didn’t need to. And that’s why, despite Nolan’s terrific Dark Knight trilogy, this is the best Batman film to date.

Why Superman Is Great


I have a friend. Shocking, I know. He’s pretty bright, he loves a lot of the things I do, and we get along pretty well. But occasionally, we disagree on something, and that debate can get pretty heated. From Jennifer Lawrence’s weight in The Hunger Games to the ending of The Last of Us, we’ve had some good arguments. One in particular is annoying me.

He hates Superman.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m not his biggest fan. He’s had some terrible movies, and some terrible comics. But I don’t hate him. I think he’s a great character who has real potential, that writers just don’t seem to capitalise on him. My friend, however, thinks he’s one of the worst comic characters ever created. He’s too good, he’s a Boy Scout, he’s got too many powers, he’s invincible, he has no flaws, his villains are dull… he’s just not interesting.

Now, I can understand not liking him as much as other heroes. Batman’s way cooler. So is Iron Man. Deadpool’s hilarious, the X-Men are diverse and interesting, Spider-Man’s the epitome of a nerdy teenager becoming totally awesome (especially in the new movie, where he got Emma Stone as a girlfriend). But those aforementioned arguments can be refuted with evidence from the comics. I can’t change your mind if you just plain don’t like someone, but if those reasons are part of why… maybe I can.

I draw your attention to the argument that Superman is invincible and just can’t be beaten.

Then I draw your attention to a comic book arc from the 1990s. It is quite literally titled The Death of Superman.

And guess what happens? Superman dies.

This happened the same year that Bane broke Batman’s back over his knee in Knightfall, which served as inspiration for the recent Dark Knight Rises movie. In that movie, Batman came up against a foe who was physically stronger, and lost the fight. In The Death of Superman, Supes faces Doomsday, a mindless killing machine capable only of murderous rage and destruction. He was the end result of a cloned infant being killed over and over, and brought back to life, becoming resistant to whatever killed him before. He’s more indestructible than Superman himself.

In a fight that destroyed much of Metropolis, the two titans killed each other; Doomsday was strapped to an asteroid and hurled into space, away from civilised planets, where it was revealed he was very much alive. And Superman was dead. The story that followed had him being resurrected and revived in the Fortress of Solitude, while four other “Supermen” tried to take his place. It was a bit of a crap follow up, but that’s besides the point.

It didn’t take Kryptonite (a much maligned weakness of Supes) to take down Superman. It just took an enemy who was bigger, and stronger. Much like Bane, since Doomsday’s big debut, the character has been written increasingly worse by writers over the years. But that shouldn’t diminish the fact that he actually killed The Man of Steel.

It is also worth noting that Superman isn’t JUST powerless against kryptonite. After ten years of Smallville, I’m pretty tired of seeing the glowing green rock, actually. But Superman actually has another, potentially more lethal weakness: magic. His powers are, technically, the result of a natural phenomenon, as yellow solar radiation (like from our sun) grants Kryptonians these abilities, whereas the red solar radiation from Krypton’s sun rendered them effectively human, with all our limitations.

These powers, coming about through a natural process, offer no resistance to magic. A bullet might bounce off his chest, but anything supernatural has a pretty great chance of taking him out. Demons, vampires, werewolves, even simple magic spells are capable of hurting him. Given Superman primarily fights aliens and robots, this weakness isn’t exploited much. But villains have exploited it before.

But let’s talk about his powers for a moment. He can fly. He has superhuman strength, speed, hearing, memory, and lung capacity. He ages much slower than an ordinary human. His eyes have x-ray, telescopic, microscopic, and infrared capabilities; plus, they can shoot lasers. Not only can he hold his breath to survive in the vacuum of space, but if he exhales powerfully enough, he can freeze things. So, yeah, he has a lot of powers. I can’t argue that he doesn’t.

What I CAN argue is how they affect him as a character.

I direct you to Kingdom Come.

A famous comic miniseries, it takes place in the future, where Superman is the most powerful being on the planet, to the point where Kryptonite has no effect on him. But as a murderous ‘superhero’ named Magog (designed to resemble popular Marvel character Cable) arrives, and kills The Joker, Magog is redeemed and revered by the media, believing villains should be killed off, opposing Superman’s belief that all life is sacred. And so Supes goes into exile (given Lois Lane has died at The Joker’s hand. And yet Superman still refused to kill Joker, proof that he’s definitely a morally righteous guy. But more on that later).

Magog’s violent ways influence nearly all the heroes, until one of them - Captain Atom - explodes with a nuclear blast, destroying Kansas, killing millions, and sweeping the United States with radiation. Superman returns - and the superheroes fall in line behind him. Not just because of his power, but because of what he represents. Like Jesus Christ, a character he is often compared to, Superman represents what humanity could be, and in our darkest moment, Superman is there to help us. No comic character embodies that quite like he does.

Kingdom Come is equally important, however, for showing one of Superman’s greatest limitations. The truth is that he loves to beat the bad guys by beating the living crap out of them. It’s what he does. He’s a quick fix guy. But when it comes to solving problems without violence, well, he sucks. His outreach program with the United Nations fails hard. His attempts to rehabilitate violent superheroes goes just as wrong. In the Batman: No Man’s Land comics, Superman arrives to help Gotham City after it is struck by an earthquake. But after seeing that the problems in the city require more than heroic acts, like lifting cars off people, he flees back to Metropolis.

Stories where Superman can’t solve a problem by punching it are often the best. In The Dark Knight Returns, Superman, unable to fight a corrupt government, becomes a helpless minion, incapable of stopping them from enslaving the world. In Superman: Peace on Earth, he tries to stop world hunger… and fails. He’s the perfect example of why might isn’t always right. Which then segues nicely into the next point about Superman: he’s too good. 

I now direct you to What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, And The American Way?, which was recently adapted as an animated film titled Superman vs. The Elite. In it, a team of super-powered antiheroes named The Elite gain public favour by killing their foes. Superman disagrees with their tactics, until he suddenly snaps, killing members of the Elite. The public, and members of the Elite, are horrified, until it is revealed Superman played a trick, filming the “deaths” and secretly saving them, to prove a point to the world: violence isn’t a positive thing.

Might doesn’t necessarily make right.

It’s an interesting point to make, given most comic books showcase epic battles between good and evil as a selling point. Especially Superman comics, which have giant robots and killer aliens throughout. The point they try to make is that, to paraphrase another comic character, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Superman could easily take over the world with his powers. Most of the other superheroes wouldn’t be able to stop him. But he knows, inherently, that tyrannical rule is wrong. And so he doesn’t.

Some take Superman’s moral code to mean that he’s a Boy Scout, a goodie-two-shoes. Batman has the same moral code, though. Both use violence to achieve their goals, but Batman will not kill a man. And he hates guns. Their morals aren’t so dissimilar. They might differ in some of their methods (and Superman tends to find non-human villains, whereas as Batman’s foes tend to be damaged humans, increasing the apparent divide between them) but they’re closer than people seem to realise.

I would hope that, at this point, one can at least concede that Superman isn’t a boring character. He’s just not dark, which is a popular personality trait for a lot of modern comic characters. He represents the good in humanity, our potential. And he can deliver an epic fistfight in the process. That makes him pretty interesting in my book. 

Hell, think of it this way: Batman’s parents died when he was a child. From that tragedy came an all-consuming desire to punish evildoers, manifesting in the dark personality of Batman. His parents were shot and killed, so not only does he refuse to kill, but he refuses to use a gun. Bruce Wayne is a mask he wears to conceal his secret (but TRUE) identity. Robin isn’t there to stop Batman from crossing the moral line and killing someone, but to stop him from doing something reckless and getting killed in the process.

Once you take all that into consideration… there’s really not much else to Batman. I would never say that’s ALL there is to him, but he’s hardly gotten much character development since his creation. That’s pretty much how it’s always been. It could be argued that, as a character by itself, there’s not really that much to him. It’s the universe around him that defines him, makes him interesting. If Batman fought only street thugs and not the colourful rogues gallery he possesses, would his stories be quite as entertaining? Think on that. I’d argue that Superman, as a character, is more complex. Problem is, Batman gets the great writers and Superman is painted as a thug who beats the crap out of things. He’s not a bad character, he’s just written that way.

Speaking of bad guys, I want to draw attention to the notion that his villains aren’t interesting. Compared to Batman, almost every other rogues gallery is pretty boring. But ignoring the “Kryptonite freak of the week” tactic employed by Smallville, Superman’s had his fair share of interesting foes.

Obviously, there’s Lex Luthor. The enemy of one of the most powerful beings in the universe, is an ordinary man. Superman can’t defeat Luthor with violence: he’s protected by politics and red tape, lies that keep him out of jail and actually get him into the White House. He’s more than a physical challenge, he’s a mental one. He desperately wants to be the world’s saviour, and is jealous of the Superman worship around him. From Luthor’s point of view, Superman is a tyrannical alien from Krypton trying to rule the planet. In Luthor’s mind, he’s the good guy. If Superman didn’t exist, would Luthor be a villain? Or would he be the good guy he claims to be? Think on that for a moment.

There’s a Brainiac, an alien genius capable of challenging Superman mentally AND physically. He’s the epitome of the evil alien: he arrives on a new planet, absorbs their knowledge, then destroys it. There’s Bizarro, an alternate Superman clone who possesses equal strength, a grotesque mirror image with a childlike mentality and speech pattern. There’s Parasite, a being that can absorb the energy, knowledge and superpowers of any individual, making him a formidable foe. There’s Metallo, a cyborg whose power source is kryptonite, making Superman weaker in his presence.

And, of course, the other big two villains. First is General Zod, who rebelled against the tyrannical rule of Krypton’s government, only to become power-mad himself, lusting to conquer worlds. He can more than hold his own opposite Superman, and is a perfect reminder of who Superman would be without his moral code. He’s the dark reflection of Kal-El. And, of course, there’s Darkseid, lord of the war planet Apokolips, determined to control and conquer life throughout the universe by unlocking and solving the Anti-Life Equation (which DID happen, in Final Crisis in 2008). He isn’t interested in fighting, preferring to let his many minions act for him; but if pushed to a confrontation, he could take on anyone. Even Superman.

Plus, the Superman mythology has some great concepts (we’ll forget about the super-powered animals). There’s the Fortress of Solitude. There’s the bottled city of Kandor. The Phantom Zone, the Legion of Superheroes, Intergang, Apokolips… sure, there’s a Superboy, and a Supergirl, but they’re better than they should be, to be honest. 

So where does that leave us? Personally, I like Superman. I just don’t like how he’s been written a lot of the time. In an ideal world, he’d have quality stories to back up his reputation as an icon in DC Comics. And he DOES have great stories. Just not enough. Writers don’t know how to write for him, and so people just assume he’s crap. And that’s a crappy assumption. There’s nothing wrong with him as a character. He’s not the best superhero. Hell, I listed the ten best comic book characters, he wouldn’t make the shortlist. But he’s far from bad. He’s flawed, interesting, vulnerable, and definitely not deserving of hatred. In the right hands, he’s amazing. You might even say he’s… super.

Yeah, you can groan at that.

I’ll leave you with this quote from What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, And The American Way:

“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share… I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”

Kingdom Hearts: Previously On... [SPOILERS]

I love Kingdom Hearts. I played it a little as a child but became really passionate about it thanks to the 1.5 Remix HD release for PlayStation 3. I’m incredibly keen for Kingdom Hearts 3. But I find that KH, like my other favourite gaming franchise (being Metal Gear), has a rather complicated series narrative. The game releases don’t follow a chronological narrative, often spinning off to detail side characters or other events (on various gaming platforms, which can make following the story more difficult); there are several different incarnations of the same character, with different names, and looks; and frankly, it’s a little confusing.

This is my attempt to explain the overarching story of the Kingdom Heart games, titled ‘The Dark Seeker Saga’, as simply as possible, but with enough detail to capture some of the intricacies of what’s going on.

Oh, and obviously: SPOILERS WITHIN.

Many years before the series began, in “the age of fairy tales”, the World was whole (each of the separate Disney worlds existing in one), and full of light. This was believed to come from the Kingdom Hearts, the heart of worlds, a source of great power and wisdom. The Kingdom Hearts was protected by the χ-blade, a legendary weapon. Over time, people came to desire the power of the Kingdom Hearts, and darkness was introduced to the World.

To seize control of the Kingdom Hearts, people forged weapons in the image of the χ-blade, called Keyblades. There was an epic battle, a far-reaching conflict that spanned the entire World. In the end, the darkness covered the World, the χ-blade was shattered into twenty pieces (seven of pure light, and thirteen of pure darkness), and the Kingdom Hearts disappeared. The remnants of the battlefield became the Keyblade Graveyard, a scarred wasteland filled with the abandoned Keyblades of fallen warriors.

The remaining Keyblade wielders resolved to protect the World from further destruction, becoming guardians of the world order. The World was restored by the light within the hearts of children, but individual worlds were separated from each other, unable to reached. The story of the Keyblade War became legend, then a fairytale, and the Keyblade was depicted as both a harbinger of destruction, and a weapon capable of saving the world.

Many years later, a young man named Xehanort was born on the Destiny Islands, but longed to leave his home. He found a way to leave, reaching the Land of Departure, where he became a Keyblade wielder, serving under a Keyblade Master. He also befriended a fellow apprentice, Eraqus. They became brothers, but their conflicting beliefs in the balance of Light and Darkness shattered their relationship. Where Eraqus believed Darkness must be destroyed, Xehanort believed Darkness could be controlled. 

Xehanort and Eraqus passed the Mark of Mastery exam, and were deemed Keyblade Masters. Having learned Keyblade lore - particularly, the Keyblade war, the χ-blade, and the Kingdom Hearts - he became obsessed with merging with the Kingdom Hearts, and remaking the universe in his own image. With his own body too old to continue his mission, he attempted to use his apprentice Ventus as a vessel, but failed. Instead, he extracted the Darkness from Ventus’s heart and created a separate being, Vanitas. Xehanort took him to Eraqus to be trained in the ways of Light, and met Eraqus’s two students, Aqua and Terra. Xehanort decided that Terra would be his new vessel.

Four years later, Xehanort manipulated Terra into turning against his friends and loved ones, and luring him to Darkness. He sabotaged Terra’s Mark of Mastery exam, and staged his own disappearance. At the same time, Xehanort encountered the evil fairy Maleficent, and manipulated her into beginning a quest to gather young women with no darkness in their hearts. They were the Seven Princesses of Heart: Alice, from Alice in Wonderland; Snow White, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Jasmine, from Aladdin; Belle, from Beauty and the Beast; Cinderella, from CInderella; Aurora, from Sleeping Beauty; and Kairi, adopted daughter to the Mayor of Destiny Islands.

Xehanort allowed himself to be “found” by Terra, before guiding him in the ways of Darkness. He even faked a kidnapping to provoke Terra’s anger and vulnerability. During this manipulation, Terra visits Destiny Islands, and meets a young boy named Riku. Through a Keyblade Inheritance Ceremony, or Bequeathing, Terra chooses Riku to be his successor to wield his Keyblade. Meanwhile, Ventus has come to love Terra like a brother, and Vanitas - on Xehanort’s orders - convinces Ventus to chase after Terra. Eraqus almost kills Ventus but is stopped by Terra, who weakens his former Master in battle; Xehanort delivers the killing blow.

Xehanort then goads Terra, and instructs Ventus and Aqua, to meet him at the Keyblade Graveyard. After an epic battle that weakens those involved, Xehanort transfers his heart into Terra’s body, and becomes Terra-Xehanort; Terra’s Keyblade Armor comes to life as the Lingering Will, a separate entity in the form of an animated suit of armour. The Lingering Will defeats Xehanort, while Vanitas possesses Ventus and creates the χ-blade. Aqua, with the assistance of fellow Keyblade apprentice Mickey Mouse (who is training under Yen Sid, the sorcerer from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia), defeats Vanitas and shatters the χ-blade, scattering everyone at the Keyblade Graveyard to a different location.

Xehanort winds up in the Radiant Guardian, with Terra’s heart’s resistance causing his memories to dissolve. Aqua finds him and fights him, allowing Terra to gain the upper hand in the internal struggle, but Xehanort stabs himself with his own Keyblade and falls into the Realm of Darkness. Aqua sacrifices herself to save Terra-Xehanort, and becomes trapped in the Darkness. Xehanort, with amnesia, is found by Ansem the Wise, the king of Radiant Garden, and taken in as one of his apprentices. A year later, his memories begin to return, and Xehanort concocts a new scheme. He and fellow apprentice Braig manipulate Ansem into experimenting with the heart, in order to produce the Heartless, under the cover of unlocking Xehanort’s hidden memories.

Ansem built a huge laboratory under his castle where he conducted tests on Xehanort’s heart; the six apprentices used the laboratory to conduct inhumane experiments on the heart, and the darkness within. Ansem, discovering this, ordered the experiments stopped and sealed the chamber, but not before the ruler of another world arrived: Mickey Mouse, now King. The two became friends, conversing over many topics, until Mickey revealed the truth of Xehanort’s intentions to Ansem. The six apprentices, meanwhile, had done irreversible damage, consumed by Darkness. They had produced the Heartless, as well as Nobodies: separate bodies, and all that remains of those who have lost their hearts to Darkness. 

Ansem attempted to stop his apprentices, but was plunged into the Realm of Darkness, after Xehanort stole his name. Enraged, he discarded his stolen name and became Darkness in Zero, or DiZ. He found a way to gain the power of darkness without being consumed by it, as his apprentices had, and escaped the Realm of Darkness, concealing his identity with a red robe and mask of red bandages. Meanwhile, the six Nobodies created became the founders of Organization XIII, a group of thirteen Nobodies intended to harbour a piece of Xehanort’s heart, as an alternate way of creating the χ-blade. But, knowing that Nobodies develop hearts and personalities of their own over time, an alternate plan is hatched.

Xehanort split into two forms to continues his plans. His Heartless form (Ansem, Seeker of Darkness) travelled back in time and contacted Xehanort as a young man on Destiny Islands, granting his younger self the ability to travel through time and gather various incarnations of himself together as a backup plan. Ansem returned to lead an army of Heartless across several worlds, to swallow as many as possible. His Nobody self, Xemnas (the name Ansem rearranged, with an 'x’; all members of Organization XIII have their original names altered this way), began searching for more Nobodies to join Organization XIII.

Nine years later, Xehanort’s plans fell apart due to the intervention of another Keyblade wielder: Sora, also from Destiny Islands. Sora is the first person to be chosen by the Keyblade as a Keyblade wielder, as every other wielder had been selected by a predecessor. With the assistance of Donald Duck and Goofy, Sora was able to defeat Maleficent and her council of villains (Hades, Jafar, Ursula, Oogie Boogie, and Captain Hook), rescue the captured Princesses of Heart, and defeat Ansem at the End of the World. During his quest, Sora temporarily became a Heartless, and a Nobody was created.

His Nobody, Roxas (also able to wield the Keyblade), was inducted as the thirteenth member of Organization XIII, with the intention of using his Keyblade to gather hearts for an artificially created Kingdom Hearts. As a backup plan, Xemnas created Xion, an obedient imperfect (and female) clone of Sora, for the purpose of absorbing Roxas. Xion developed her own personality and rebelled, and was defeated in battle by Roxas. Meanwhile, Sora began eliminating the members of Organization XIII one-by-one, until only Xemnas ws left. Xemnas merged with the artificial Kingdom Hearts for the final battle, but was defeated and faded into darkness.

Master Yen Sid believed that the destruction of Ansem and Xemnas did not mean the end of Xehanort, but that he will eventually be revived as Master Xehanort, his original form. To counter this, Yen Sid lead Sora and Riku through an abridged form of the Mark of Mastery exam, to make them strong enough for the coming battle. The exam was hindered by a mysterious youth who interfered with events, and tricked Sora into returning to The World That Never Was, where he was captured. Riku follows, discovering the young man is Xehanort from the past, using his time travel abilities to gather thirteen forms of Xehanort in order to revive Master Xehanort.

Xehanort admitted his previous attempt to use Ventus and Vanitas to forge an χ-blade was miscalculated, but has a new plan. He will select thirteen Seekers of Darkness - himself, and twelve other vessels for Xehanort’s heart from across time and space - against the seven Guardians of Light - either the Princesses of Heart, or seven Keyblade wielders protecting them. Xehanort plans to place a fragment of his heart inside Sora’s comatose body to complete his thirteen, but Riku forces him to retreat. Xehanort promises that they will meet again for the final battle.

Riku enters Sora’s comatose body and restores his heart by gathering its broken pieces. Yen Sid declares Riku a Keyblade Master, for his efforts to save Sora; Sora has failed. Undaunted by his failure, Sora sets out on a new journey to train for the coming battle. Yen Sid, meanwhile, plans to gather seven Keyblade wielders to combat the new Organization. To this end, Riku brings Kairi to him, so she can be trained to wield the Keyblade (bequeathed to her by Aqua)…

So, that’s the Dark Seeker Saga (so far!). Bits and pieces have been left out, like much of Chain of Memories, and some of the smaller characters. But (what I think are) the important things have been included to hopefully make understanding the story a little easier.

Bring on Kingdom Hearts III!

Kingdom Hearts: Keyblade War

The Kingdom Hearts franchise is complicated. There are three numbered titles in the series, though only two have been released; there are seven other titles in the series (eight, if you include a recent web-browser based game, but I don’t), which spin-off in various directions to explain more of the KH universe. It jumps from console to console, from PS2 to Game Boy Advance to Nintendo DS to the 3DS to PlayStation Portable, to the next-gen consoles… To follow the narrative, you’ve gotta be willing to expand your gaming horizons.

My problem with the franchise is that it’s getting too complicated, and bogged down with the weight of its complicated storyline and interconnected characters. Multiple characters have the same name and appearance, with different and contrasting motives, often in the same game. The games are released in a non-linear chronology, so it’s not always easy to follow.

What I propose is something different altogether. This is the game I dreamed up while playing 1.5 HD Remix, based on things I’d like to see the franchise do, characters and worlds I want, and basically just to get away from the labyrinthine narrative that is Sora’s story.

^ This is not my picture. I stumbled across it on Google and really liked it. So I used it. I don’t know whose it is so I cannot list their name as author. But it’s bitchin’.


In ancient times, people believed that light was a gift from an unseen land by the name of Kingdom Hearts. But Kingdom Hearts was safeguard by its counterpart, the χ-blade. Warriors vied for that precious light, thus beginning the "Keyblade War”. The violent clash shattered the χ-blade into twenty pieces—seven of light and thirteen of darkness. And only the real Kingdom Hearts was swallowed by the darkness, never to surface again.“

- Master Xehanort

The Keyblade War to Kingdom Hearts is what the Clone Wars was to the original Star Wars trilogy. A giant conflict that is mentioned occasionally but never really elaborated upon. It happened before the game’s main series, and actually inspired the chief villain of the series to begin his evil schemes. So, yeah, it’s pretty important.

Except, aside from the above and a couple of other references to the aftermath (like a freaking Keyblade Graveyard!), what actually happened is pretty vague. And that is a missed opportunity. The potential to tell the story of a giant battle in the Kingdom Hearts world, unhindered by the complicated mythology of Sora’s narrative, is tantalising. I know some KH fans want it, and some don’t; it would be a risk to take the franchise away from what so many people know. But I think it’s worth a shot.


The story follows a young Keyblade wielder as dark forces are amassing to acquire the Kingdom Hearts. The Keyblade wielder is sent forth on a quest to recruit two Keyblade Masters from distant lands, and find four new warriors to join them for battle. With the help of these warriors, and assistance from a couple of other Disney alumni, the Keyblade War will begin.

Of course, we know how it ends: the bad guys lose, the Kingdom Hearts disappears, and darkness covers the land. There’s potential there for a sequel, with the characters from KH: KW fighting to find a way to reintroduce light into the hearts of children, so light can spread across the universe again.

It’s also worth noting that, at this point in the series, all of the worlds are not separated from one another. They all exist in the same world. Atlantica, Halloween Town, Hollow Bastion, Monstro, Olympus Coliseum… all in one place! This means that inter-planetary travel via Gummi ship is no longer required. But travel from place to place is still required, and there’s more on that later.


In looking at the existing Kingdom Hearts franchise, there are two characters I think would make for great existing Keyblade Masters.

King Triton, from The Little Mermaid, shows existing knowledge of Keyblades and Keyholes in the first Kingdom Hearts game. It’s not a stretch to believe that he played a part in the Keyblade War, and his role would arguably be Mace Windu’s in the Star Wars prequel: a reluctant warrior forced into battle. Rafiki, from The Lion King, would then be Yoda. He’s good in combat, has shamanistic powers, and is a fan-favourite Disney character. And I’d love to see these two as Keyblade Warriors.

The easiest way to be different is a new protagonist. Not Sora, not Sora’s Nobody, not Sora’s friend… Somebody unconnected or, if connected, vaguely so.

I’ve chosen Yen Sid. Or at least, a younger version of him.

Yen Sid first appeared in the Fantasia segment The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, though he never actually spoke until Kingdom Hearts II. He’s mysterious, and is renowned for his wisdom and mastery of magic. He taught Mickey Mouse the way of the Keyblade, and organised Sora and Riku’s Mark of Mastery exam. He is no longer an active Keyblade Master. He’s basically Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. The idea is to use Yen Sid as a young man as the protagonist. Different outfit, but the same kind of colour scheme, with the usual Tetsuya Nomura costume designs. Less mastery of magic, but relatively skilled with a Keyblade.

In the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Sora is joined by Goofy and Donald Duck on his quest. Obviously, that’s not the case here. Instead, I’ve selected Bernard and Miss Bianca, two mice who are members of the Rescue Aid Society from The Rescuers. Not as overtly comic as Donald and Goofy, a callback to a loved if lesser-known Disney series, and could hold their own in a fight without magical weapons.

Then there are the four others Yen Sid recruits to become Keyblade Warriors, taken from across Disney franchises, and one Final Fantasy character (because the FF characters don’t play a big enough role in the series to warrant their inclusion, IMO):

Goliath of Castle Wyvern, from Gargoyles. He was the leader of his clan at Castle Wyvern, until a curse by a vengeful Mage turned his entire clan to stone, until "the castle rose above the clouds”. When David Xanatos moves the castle to Manhattan, above the clouds, his clan comes to life, but only at night; during the daylight, he turns to stone.

Princess Elsa of Arendelle, from Frozen. Born with the elemental ability to create and control ice and snow, she has sealed herself and her cryokinetic abilities away from her younger sister, Anna, and her people, for fear of hurting them. When an incident at her coronation leads to her powers being uncovered, she flees into the mountains, accidentally causing eternal winter through the land.

Princess Merida of Dunbroch, from Brave. The sixteen-year-old future queen, who rebels against the traditions of a “proper lady” and prefers archery, sword-fighting and horse-racing, desperate to take control of her own destiny, independent of her parents’ wishes for her.

Vincent Valentine, from Final Fantasy VIII. He fell in love with the scientist Lucrecia Crescent, whom he was ordered to protect, before becoming subject to genetic experiments that means he cannot age, and leaving him in a death-like, almost vampiric state, with superhuman strength, speed, endurance, agility, regeneration, and shape-shifting.

But we can’t go anywhere without mentioning Jim Hawkins, from Treasure Planet. He serves under Captain Amelia on the RSL Legacy, which replaces the Gummi Ship for this concept. Adventurous, caring, and a little bit of a bad boy, Jim basically becomes Anakin (without the future evil) to Yen Sid’s young Obi Wan, an unofficial apprentice. Perhaps he’d play a bigger part in a sequel. Who knows?


Now, given where this sits in the Kingdom Hearts universe, the bad guys must change completely. There’s no Xehanort, no Maleficent or Council of Villains, and also no Heartless. I searched hard to find a good set of Disney villains (and one from Final Fantasy, of course), but I think I’ve got a pretty good line-up.

The Horned King, from The Black Cauldron, is the leader of the bad guys. In The Black Cauldron, he wanted the titular relic to unleash an army of the undead. Here, he wants the Kingdom Hearts for the power it possesses. He’s a pretty terrifying bad guy, so he’d make a great leader.

To help him in his scheme, he’s amassed a team of elite villains:

Doctor Facilier of New Orleans, from The Princess and the Frog. Also known as the Shadow Man, he is a witch doctor who, like Ursula and Hades, tricks his victims into making deals with him. His voodoo magic makes him an extremely dangerous opponent.

The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Having lost his head long ago during the Revolutionary War, he rides to Sleepy Hollow every Halloween to find a new head. He is neither dead nor alive, making him an almost invulnerable opponent. Plus, he’s headless.

Mother Gothel, from Tangled. A witch at the end of her life, she has used her powers to control Rapunzel and use the magical properties in her hair to restore her youth. With her link to eternal youth taken away from her, she is a fiercely dangerous opponent. The extent of her magical prowess is unknown.

Mor'du, from Brave. Once a loving son and brother, his arrogance and desire for power caused him to start a war with his brothers, killing his entire family in cold blood. His violent nature has consumed his humanity. Thanks to an ancient curse (which has been tampered with by Facilier), Mor'du sometimes shapeshifts into a large black bear with one dead eye, and terrible rage.

David Xanatos, from Gargoyles. A billionaire with designs on Castle Wyvern, he is a master strategist with considerable wealth. He is also armed with a battle armour suit, designed to emulate the appearance of a Gargoyle, which allows flight… and the use of rocket launchers strapped to his back.

Kefka Palazzo, from Final Fantasy VI. Formerly court mage to Emperor Gestahl, Kefka is a clown-like, nihilistic psychopath who is powerful, manipulative, and utterly insane. His brutality and ruthlessness are unmatched, and his creepy laugh will send chills up Yen Sid’s spine. Even the Horned King will have trouble controlling him.

Professor Padraic Ratigan III, from The Great Mouse Detective. The arch-nemesis of Basil of Baker Street, is a highly sadistic and merciless criminal, regarded as one of the world’s greatest criminal minds. Given extra height thanks to Facilier, he is now a formidable opponent for any taking part in the Keyblade War.


One of the key elements of Kingdom Hearts is travelling to different locations. Usually, they’re taken from Disney movies, though some are made up to serve the series’ mythology. Given the game would take place years before Sora’s first adventure, many of these places wouldn’t exist. And given the worlds are not separated, but exist in the same world, they wouldn’t exist in the forms fans know them as. Hollow Bastion, Radiant Garden and the Battlefield (which would become known as the Keyblade Graveyard in KHII) are existing locations that would probably be visited. Listed below, however, are new ones:

Treasure Planet

In order to use the RSL Legacy for travel, Yen Sid, Rafiki and Triton (who magics himself some legs) must help Jim Hawkins and Captain Amelia locate the mythical Treasure Planet, which isn’t in fact a planet, but a giant sphere-shaped mechanism created by an alien race capable of opening up a portal to anywhere in the universe. It is also home to the treasure of Captain Flint. It is filled with alien technology and ancient booby-traps to be disarmed.

The New World (Pocahontas)

A world untouched by modern technology, of wild growth, trees, and waterfalls. Seeking the identities of warriors capable of defending the Kingdom Hearts, Yen Sid seeks Grandmother Willow, a sentient weeping willow tree that provides sage advice and, occasionally, comical remarks. But she is threatened by the arrival of Governor Radcliffe, who wishes to claim the land for himself.

Baker Street (The Great Mouse Detective)

London in the 1800s, as seen by mice. The characters are shrunk to rodent size, to run around the feet of larger humans, and enter nooks and crannies in the walls of buildings. To locate the recruits listed by Grandmother Willow, Yen Sid seeks the services of Basil of Baker Street, the great mouse detective. But he is unable to help until he has thwarted Professor Ratigan, his nemesis. But Ratigan seems to be receiving help from forces beyond comprehension… 

Arendelle (Frozen)

A kingdom covered in ice, in desperate need of help. Yen Sid helps Princess Anna traverse the snowy kingdom to rescue her sister, Elsa, who has fled to an ice palace. Yen Sid defeats Elsa’s icy protectors and helps her control her powers, to recruit her as a Keyblade Warrior. Anna becomes temporary ruler of Arendelle in the meantime.

Castle Wyvern (Gargoyles)

A castle filled with gargoyles desperate to protect it, and ancient magics locked within. Originally in Scotland, it was moved by billionaire David Xanatos for the purpose of exploiting the magic of the gargoyles that lived there. Goliath and his clan, with Yen Sid’s help, rebels against Xanatos’s plans, and joins his side, but Xanatos strikes a deal with a new ally: the mysterious Doctor Facilier…

The Bayou (The Princess and the Frog)

The bayou of New Orleans, home to talking animals, swamps, and mysterious voodoo magic. Suspicious of Facilier, Yen Sid heads to the Bayou to find Mama Odie, a kindly old blind voodoo priestess with considerable knowledge of the world around her. At the same time, he offers to help a young woman and a prince who have been magically transformed into frogs. With the truth about Facilier revealed, Yen Sid is granted abilities to help combat his magics (a player upgrade).

The Highlands(Brave)

The highlands of Scotland, where four clans are in a tentative time of peace, but ready for conflict. There are strange stone monuments and ruined castles to be found. Princess Merida has fled her home into the highlands, after a spell made in anger has cursed her mother. Yen Sid offers to help break the curse, but there’s a powerful bear rampaging through the highlands. And Doctor Facilier is there, seemingly after the bear…

The Marshes of Morva (The Black Cauldron)

Menacing and foreboding, the marshes are home to the bodies of drowned travelers, and the stench of decay, as well as three enchantresses who assist Yen Sid in his journey. But Morva is in Prydain, home of the Horned King, who is preparing to fight for Darkness in the Keyblade War… and so it becomes a struggle to escape this land alive.

The Abandoned City

Now, this is a concept I’m proud of. Whereas Kingdom Hearts primarily uses popular Disney concepts, and Epic Mickey used characters from the start of the studio’s career, the Abandoned City would be home to characters and locations from films that Disney almost made, but cancelled. Searching through Disney’s history reveals a long list of great candidates, like Fraidy CatChanticleerAntoniusThe Emperor and the NightingaleReynard the FoxA Few Good GhostsMusicana… and elements from all of them would exist here. If Kingdom Hearts could make this happen in real life, then maybe some of them would get made. And that would be excellent. The city itself would be something steampunk, but weathered by time and damage, and filled to the brim with references to almost movies. The ultimate Easter Egg.


Rather than complicated narratives, it’d be relatively straightforward. Dark forces are massing to fight the Keyblade War. Yen Sid gets Jim Hawkins and the RSL Legacy for travel, hires the Rescue Aid Society for help, finds Rafiki and Triton to fight, then uses Grandmother Willow and Basil of Baker Street to help locate potential recruits for the war. As they recruit Goliath from Castle Wyvern, Elsa from Arendelle, and Merida from the Highlands, Yen Sid discovers that Doctor Facilier is gathering recruits for The Horned King, who is attempting to take the Kingdom Hearts and the χ-blade. Yen Sid and his allies escape to the Abandoned City, where they find Vincent Valentine among various abandoned Disney characters. It is here they discover that the conflict can end if the Kingdom Hearts disappear, which can be achieved by destroying the χ-blade.

The Keyblade War begins (a large stretch of combat gameplay), with the Light Keyblade Warriors fighting the Dark Keyblade Warriors, until Yen Sid, duelling the Horned King, finds a way to shatter the χ-blade into twenty pieces, scattering them across the world. The Kingdom Hearts disappear and the War is over. The battlefield is littered with fallen Warriors, whose Keyblades are left in tribute. Rafiki, Triton, Elsa, and Merida return to their homes. Goliath and his clan live atop the roofs of Hollow Bastion. Bernard and Miss Bianca stay with Yen Sid, who agrees to take on Jim Hawkins as his Keyblade Apprentice. With the Kingdom Hearts gone, darkness covers the world, as Yen Sid sets out to find a way to return light into the hearts of children, and thus the world. Sequel much?


Eh. You have to leave room for a sequel, don’t you? It’d probably have Yen Sid and Jim Hawkins on the RSL Legacy trying to find a way to combat the spreading darkness and return light to the world. His method of bringing back light would lead to the various Disney worlds being separated from one another, as they are in the modern Kingdom Hearts games. Yen Sid would retire as an active Keyblade Master in the Mysterious Tower of Twilight Town. And then that’d probably be it. No need to make the narrative over-complicated. 


It’s really kind of like a blueprint for glorified fanfiction, really. Hell, if I wrote fanfiction, maybe I’d pen this bad boy! But as a creative arts student, I know if I don’t write the idea down, it’ll just bother me for a while. And knowing there are Kingdom Hearts fans on Tumblr, I thought I’d post it here.

And now I’m done!

Now maybe I can get some sleep without dreaming of Yen Sid and Rafiki battling Kefka in Arendelle.

Favourite Actress #01: Meryl Streep

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What, are you surprised?

The Deer Hunter. Manhattan. Kramer vs. Kramer. Sophie’s Choice. Silkwood. Out of Africa. Postcards from the Edge. Death Becomes Her. The Bridges of Madison County. Adaptation. The Hours. The Devil Wears Prada. Doubt. Julie & Julia. The Iron Lady. Honestly, I don’t even need to write about her. I could just leave it at the list of her movies and be done. Not to mention her fantastic work on stage, or on television (like her stint as Jessica Lovejoy in The Simpsons, or the miniseries Angels in America).

She has seventeen Academy Award nominations and three wins, and twenty-six Golden Globe nominations and seven wins, making her the most nominated actor in history. Plus two Emmys, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, five Grammy nominations, two BAFTAs, and a Tony Award nomination. She’s clearly on some kind of artistic performance steroid because it really doesn’t seem humanly possible. But that’s just Meryl Streep!

Some of her films aren’t great. Like the god-awful Mamma Mia, or Lions for Lambs, or The Ant Bully. But she always delivers a great performance. My personal favourite? Part of me wants to be obvious and say Sophie’s Choice, which is far from overrated, despite what some people think. But personally, I’d have to go with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. She’s hilarious! I didn’t realise Streep had such comic ability until her turn as Aunt Josephine.


…the whole situation was complicated because someone who shall remain nameless (let’s call them You Know Who, ‘cause Harry Potter references are always funny) was a mutual ex for both of us, who cheated on both of us and, in one specific instance, on one of us with the other one.

Their big, ugly shadow was hanging over us no matter what, and since they haven’t properly dealt with what happened… It was never going to work. So I called it off and finished my brunch by myself, with all the people in the food court eyeing me awkwardly.

I’m not too fussed posting this on Tumblr. This is just the way it is, yo.

My greatest moment of 2011?

Making my friends cry with my acting.

Not because I’m evil and I like making my friends cry, but because it was the first time I thought, “I can do this. I might actually go somewhere with this.”

A small moment, maybe, but a game-changing one.


I’ll also throw in the first week of Uni, when all of my Drama classmates (many of whom won’t be returning next year, sadly) would sit around on a couch in the Uni Bar, drinking, and questioning each other’s sexuality. Everyone was so open and happy and content with who they are; it was light years away from high school, and I was so happy to be there.