10 Underrated Performances (Part 1)

This essay was commissioned by Chris Spiderdreamer. You can find out more about commissions here.

Just in time for Oscar season: yet more people who have never been acknowledged by the archaic, garbage voting body that defines the public perception of Doing Entertainment Good. “Underrated” can mean just about infinite things to infinite people, and nearly as many even from a single point of view. Do you go with roles acclaimed in their time but lost to history? Small roles that get overlooked after the fact? Exceptional performances based on an actor’s history or usual type of performance? We could all be here for months exploring the possibilities.

Faced with that wealth of options, I wound up dividing this post into two different approaches. This week, we’ll look at a few performances so good they make the work worth seeing, even if the overall result is an uneven one. One really good actor, given enough space, can elevate an entire project – there are B-movie actors who make a career of it. I could’ve populated the entire list with picks from Cillian Murphy’s CV (I didn’t, but he still deserves a mention).

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Five Forgotten Gems – Comic Book Adaptations

I’m not sure whether we’ve reached the saturation point of comic book media yet. I do know that we’re now fully into the realm of adaptive choices obscure enough that even I have to start doing preemptive google searches when I notice my internet feeds getting particularly excited about certain cameos. But on the other hand it only took us this long to realize that maybe Wonder Woman should get a movie after all, so maybe my preemptive cringing about all the things that might go wrong with the Deadpool movie is beside the point.

All of which is a very long preamble to saying that the recent avalanche of movies based largely on superhero comics into live action spectacle fests, fun ones or no, has left me hungering for some smaller and more experimental takes on media by way of that beautiful and versatile medium of pictures-and-words.

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Five Forgotten Gems – Animated Heroes

I’m pretty prepared to say we live in a golden age of western animation – and as someone who survived the compulsory (and awful) “western animation is just so shallow compared to glorious anime” phase, it is a real kick to be able to say so. We’re also still pretty square in the wave of mainstreaming of superheroes, replete with unexpected winners (you rolled your eyes at that Rocket Raccoon trailer, don’t you lie) and a seemingly endless chaff of bland, soulless cash-ins eaten by time (of which I imagine poor, director-shuffled Ant Man will only be the most recent example).

But before we had the tidal wave of superhero movies, kids’ TV was where it was at – and for every unfortunate Spiderman utterly strangled by terrified studio mandates, there was another handful of shows that made it out with something worth talking about. Let’s tip our hats to them today.

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There’s a Lupin for Everyone (Just Like Batman)

Or: Probably the Only Time You’ll See Hayao Miyazaki Compared to Frank Miller

Spring season is finally bringing us a new installment of Lupin III, dear readers. As much as I adore The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (and I do, emphatically), it was quite the departure for the series’ established MO – a contained, stylish thought experiment and deliberate period piece rather than a fast-and-loose adventure story with a consistent core cast. Meanwhile, the new “Blue Jacket” (premiere date undetermined at time of writing outside of the general spring 2015 timeline) seems set not only on returning to the adventure of the week formula but in finally updating the thief to the modern day – and I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how deep that goes. Annual Lupin specials might have had modern tech interludes (who can forget the oddity of Goemon using an iPhone), but the character writing has never really felt like it left the 70s.

In fact, while I’ll fight for the highest caliber entries of the franchise’s status as timeless classics, it can be really tough to sell a modern anime fan on getting into Lupin. Part of that’s the age (particularly in the art style), but beyond that I hear over and over again that the amount of content is just overwhelming. We’re talking over 40 years of animation, after all. And it’s not always evident from the outside how loose the continuity between series is – not to mention the many, many different tones and takes over the years, meaning there can be different “best starting places” for everyone. But I think I’ve finally got a way to explain it to people: Lupin III is like Batman.

Not the go-to comparison (that’s usually, off the cuff, “James Bond meets Bugs Bunny”), but it works. Trust me, I can prove it.

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The Ethics of Reinterpretation or, A Defense of Dubs

A word, if I may, about dubbing. I would truly like to believe that we now live in an age where near-instant streaming, dual language physical media existing as the norm, and an increased sense of globalization intermingling cultures freely with one another, means that we can at last move past the torrential debate of whether subtitled or dubbed programming is more worth watching. But I also like to think we live in a basically ordered universe powered by some manner of beneficent entity, so my idealism blinders are rather strong.

While there’s many an argument on both sides that amounts to little more than shrillness disguised as a desperate bid for legitimacy, the best case I’ve heard against dubbed performances is that they’re disrespectful to the original intent of the director or the performer. And, while I think there’s some shades of grey to the statement, it’s something I’d like to parse a bit – because while there will always be paycheck-scumming performances, there are just as many where the actor put their heart and soul into their part of the final product. Is it then disrespectful to those actors to make the original language track a sort of ‘second choice’ when the show comes to foreign shores, an extra that the casual viewer might not even think to turn to?

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