Interlude – “Harley Quinn = Money” Should Be Warner Brothers’s Takeaway From the Success of Deadpool

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(I won’t be able to add to my goal of 100 movies in 2016, again, until the first weekend of March, most likely.  So, to make sure you know I’m still here, I’ll be posting an Interlude or two in the meantime.  Here’s the first.)

There has been much said about the unexpected and, quite frankly, nearly-unfathomable success of Fox’s Deadpool.  In just ten days, the X-Men spinoff surpassed the domestic grosses of each of the X-Men movies, themselves, and every studio is going to be (if they aren’t, already) tripping over themselves, trying to find a way to duplicate that level of success ($500 million worldwide and counting) for similar low costs (only $58 million).  It’s time for Warner Brothers and DC to realize that they don’t need to trip over anything or anyone; their answer is right in front of them.

Harley Quinn, casually created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm when they needed someone to jump out of a cake, became the breakout character of Batman: The Animated Series.  Debuting on September 11, 1992, she quickly captivated the minds, hearts, and funny bones of viewers of all ages.  Originally a sidekick/”romantic” (and I use that word very loosely) interest for the Joker, she truly began to take on a life of her own when Dini and Timm published BATMAN: MAD LOVE.  That story was so well-received by both fans and critics (winning the “Best Single Issue” Eisner Award for 1994) that it was then adapted into an episode of the animated series, as well.

Following that, things took off for Harley to the point that, in 1999, she was introduced into the mainstream DC Universe in BATMAN: HARLEY QUINN #1 by Dini and artist Aaron Sowd.  From there, she finally got her own ongoing comic book series in 1991 that lasted for 38 issues. That may not sound like much to the uninitiated, but it’s truly no small feat.  After that, she made some guest appearances, here and there, before once again starring in her own book but, this time, sharing the spotlight.  This was a team book called GOTHAM CITY SIRENS in which she formed a group with other frequent Batman foils Poison Ivy and Catwoman.

In 2011, when DC rebooted their entire line of books under the New 52 banner, Harley found herself as part of the Suicide Squad, a team of villains forced into servitude by a covert government operation.  Two years later, Harley once again became the star of her own book, this time at the hands of the husband-and-wife writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner and artist Chad Hardin.  It was here when Harley truly found her own unique identity and began to resonate with readers of all kinds and origins.  The movie industry would refer to that as “four-quadrant appeal” (young, old, men, women).

Defying all expectations, the new HARLEY QUINN regularly fell in the top ten monthly sellers of all comics across the industry – becoming DC’s second-biggest ongoing series behind BATMAN (that includes regularly outselling DETECTIVE COMICS).  A buzz began to form around the book and Harley, herself.  I, personally, began to notice more Harley Quinn memes popping up on social media.  And the merchandise!  Harley is a Hot Topic staple and if you want a Harley Quinn shirt, action figure, blanket, pajama pants, poster, or anything else, you don’t have to look too hard to find it.

So, why is Harley Quinn WB/DC’s ace in the hole?  Lots of characters have cult followings.  The Punisher has almost always been highly regarded by fans, and often by critics, too.  He had three movies fail – and fail spectacularly.  The Fantastic Four launched the Marvel Universe.  They, too, have struggled at the box office.  What would make Harley different?  Why would she succeed where others with far more of a legacy behind them have failed?  The answers lie in Deadpool‘s success.

There are lots of nervous think pieces out there regarding what lessons studios will take from Deadpool‘s success.  Most seem centered around the fear that studios will now assume that everything needs to be rated R in order to be a breakout hit.  So, let’s start with that and how it relates to Harley.  A Harley Quinn solo film, just like any given Deadpool solo film, wouldn’t absolutely have to be R-rated.  But, also like Deadpool, it could be.  The key here lies not so much in explicit content but in the edginess that the two characters share.  Both take their frustrations out in mega-violent fashion on those who earn their wrath.  You can show this explicitly for an R rating or have it implied for a hard PG-13.  Harley is also completely unashamed of her sexuality.  I don’t know what Margot Robbie’s contracts look like, now that she’s nearing mega-star status, but if she was agreeable, the sexuality could definitely be R-rated without too many people complaining.  But, it could also be close-but-no-cigar for that more appealing PG-13.  The language is the same way; Harley curses, but she’s not Andrew Dice Clay (too dated a reference?  Look it up!  Sigh.  Okay, I’ll look it up for you.).  PG-13 language would be completely acceptable.

The key in mining this field of gold is in truly understanding her appeal, in the same way that the folks behind Deadpool understood his.  While Harley and Deadpool share many similarities, they aren’t carbon copies of each other, only with one being male and the other being female.  One trait that they have come to share in recent years is their anti-hero status.  Both characters long to be heroes but frankly have little idea how to succeed at it, due to their psychotic personalities.  This aspect of the Harley character was primarily introduced (or at least emphasized) by Palmiotti and Conner and is a frequent source of humor, pathos, and story progression, as it could be in a potential film.  The upside to focusing on this in a Harley film would be that the Deadpool film not only ignored that aspect of his character, but downright contradicted it.  So, that would really set a Harley film apart from Deadpool and allow her to become more of her own entity and avoid some otherwise natural comparisons between the films.

Another similarity the two share is tone.  This is where Deadpool got it perfect.  That film was hilarious when it could be and serious when it needed to be.  It allowed Deadpool’s personality to shine through without making it impossible to also take him seriously as a person.  Again, Conner and Palmiotti have nailed this same idea flawlessly in HARLEY QUINN.  Her adventures are often manic, comedic, and outlandish (to wonderful effect) yet she’s not without very human wants, desires, and feelings – all of which are entirely relatable to the reader.  This, along with the wit and humor, is why she’s caught fire in recent years.  Both as a character and as a book, she’s so much fun, but you also root for her to succeed at simply getting through her daily life, in the very same way that we root for ourselves to do the same.  And, as tough as life can be for us normal folk, it’s significantly more challenging for Harley because she can’t help but complicate things for herself to an exaggerated degree.  So, we cheer her on, all while understanding her everyday troubles and laughing along with her as she tries to find solutions to them.  Translating this component of the character over to the big screen is paramount and would be the lynchpin upon which financial (and likely critical) success would hinge.  Harley, like Deadpool, isn’t about saving the world.  She has enough trouble saving herself.

As I mentioned before, while Harley and Deadpool have similarities, they also have differences.  There are obvious differences (the cosmetic), more nuanced differences (character motivations), and then there’s one critical difference.  That difference is market penetration.  Audience awareness.  Unlike Deadpool, Harley Quinn is nearing Household Name status without ever appearing on the big screen.  This provides a sturdier launching pad than Deadpool had.  And not only that, but she has near-equal appeal to men as Deadpool does but far stronger appeal to women.  Therefore, her potential is far more promising from the outset than Deadpool’s was.  I have a hard time believing that the right people haven’t noticed this, yet.

So, it’s great to throw all of this out there for consideration, but I don’t like to analyze without offering up a plausible scenario for success.  As Fox has learned the hard way (The Fantastic Four), you can’t just throw anything you want onto the screen and expect it to succeed.  So, here’s how I would approach a Harley Quinn solo film.

  • Schedule It Now  Allow a reasonable amount of time, but stop beating around the bush and pull the trigger on this.  I would find a new, creative director who is also a fan.  And not just an old school fan.  If they haven’t read the New 52 series, where Harley truly came into her own, then it’s a no-go.
  • Use the Comics Professionals  Hire Conner and Palmiotti to write it, if they’re willing and able.  If not, see if they’ll consult.  The majority of the hugely successful live-action comic book adaptations have had the input of the comic professionals that understand them.  Nobody understands Harley more than Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.  I even prefer their take on the character above Paul Dini’s.  If they’re open to it, they need to be involved.
  • Keep the Budget Relatively Low  Something else that Deadpool has shown is that the attraction is in the character, not the spectacle.  Harley Quinn has no need for huge set pieces.  The casting should be reasonable, as well.  In that vein, keep Margot Robbie.  She’s perfect.  I don’t know how she’ll be portrayed in this summer’s Suicide Squad, but Robbie has the look and the talent to pull it off, even if the writing fails her in this summer’s debut for the character.  If things go south there (and I have no reason to think that they will; I’m just speculating for the sake of covering my bases), they can be fixed in the solo film, just as the problems with Deadpool’s debut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine were fixed in Deadpool.  But that’s getting ahead of myself and off-topic.  Keep the budget low and keep the story true to the nature of the character. Obviously, there’s no guarantee of box office returns that equal that of Deadpool, but making a profit of some sort would be a virtual guarantee.
  • Keep it PG-13  I mentioned the four-quadrant appeal, earlier.  Those four quadrants include little girls who could be a source of huge revenue when it comes to ticket and merchandise sales.  But only if they have access to the character.  My actual suggestion would be to film an R-rated cut with the full intent of trimming it down to a PG-13 for the theatrical run.  Release two blu-ray versions and everybody’s happy.  The budget should be low enough to allow this idea to be developed from the genesis of the project so that the script could be written with the end goal in mind.  Multiple shots and takes could be filmed in the moment for the relevant scenes, as well, making the process both time- and cost-efficient.  An airplane and cable cut would have to be made, anyway.  Might as well take care of it from the start.  But, if a choice must be made, then it should be (a hard) PG-13.
  • Do 3D  Deadpool skipped the 3D due to budget, I assume.  I get that, but if any movie should be 3D, it would be a movie where the main character regularly breaks the fourth wall.  Harley has done some of that, but even without doing that (and a Harley film should avoid breaking the fourth wall.  Let Deadpool have that.) I think 3D would allow the film to further immerse the audience in her crazy world and also play with them, at the same time.
  • No Batman.  No Joker.  Conner and Palmiotti have transformed Harley into her own, fully-realized independent character.  She doesn’t need to rely on these other men to pull her across the finish line.  In fact, she’s more fun, interesting, and entertaining 1) without them, and 2) than either of them.  Plus, they would just elevate the budget, anyway.  But Harley is a figurehead for strong, confident, intelligent women and cramming Batman and/or the Joker into her film would rob her of that individuality and independence.  Other than one possible-future-timeline appearance and one long-overdue cathartic event (in the best issue of the series, so far, Harley Quinn #25.  BUY IT!), and a Valentine’s Day Special, they have had virtually no presence in her new series and their absence has been welcome.  Harley is her own woman, at long last.
  • Use a Bright Color Palette  This may seem like a minor – and even inconsequential detail, but I don’t think that’s the case, at all.  A film having a certain look can overwhelmingly affect how it’s perceived by audiences.  This was a minor gripe I had with Deadpool.  The color palette was a little drab for the tone.  A Harley movie should be glowing and radiant, just like Harley’s personality.  And the dichotomy between the happy look of the film and the darker material contained wherein can be shocking and memorable.  Look at South Park for an obvious example.  If the filmmakers really wanted to mix it up, Harley, herself, could maybe be a barely-noticeable shade or two brighter than the rest of the film, representing her undying spirit in the face of the unforgiving world around her.  But Harley should shine and sparkle on that screen, without question.
  • Change the Suicide Squad Character Design  I’m sure in designing Harley’s look for Suicide Squad, WB wanted to make it more “grounded” and “real-world”.  Perhaps “less sexual” due to fears of being accused of sexualizing her, or something of that sort.  Well, forget all of that.  When I look at that design, I don’t think “Harley Quinn”.  It’s going to be down to Margot Robbie’s performance to convince me that I’m looking at Harley (and, for what it’s worth, I expect her to succeed.).  By now, WB should know that going for the fantastic tends to breed greater success than grounding the material does.  And, guess what?  Removing her affinity for sexuality also removes her (new-generation buzz word, comin’ at ya!) agency.  Harley enjoys her sexuality, her appearance, and showing it off.  Lots of real women do, too.  It’s reality.  So, there you go; it’s still grounded, after all.  Therefore, either keep the Conner design or ask her to design something else close to it.  But go back to the source (and not the harlequin costume, which is impractical and too closely associated with the Joker, though that should be referenced, at some point).  It works.  Speaking of Harley’s sexuality . . ..
  • Keep Her Bisexual  Whether you know it, or not, Harley Quinn is very openly and unapologetically bisexual.  Another thing Deadpool did beautifully is marketing, which included releasing the right information at the right time.  The faithful comic-book-reading audience is so extraordinarily tiny when compared to the size of the movie-going audience that, in reality, they/we make up very little of any comic book movie’s box office take.  But we’re important in terms of pre-release buzz and word-of-mouth.  In place of Batman and the Joker, include Poison Ivy.  Release a still of them looking cozy or holding hands.  The comic fans go nuts (in a good way) because it validates continuity.  The general public and media applaud the progressiveness.  The good buzz begins.  I’m not saying their relationship needs to be the primary one in the film.  Maybe Mason Macabre could be in there, too.  But it’s about creating positive buzz and getting the right people talking in the right ways.
  • Buck the Conventional Story Structure  One criticism of Deadpool is that it still follows the traditional comic book movie arc while seemingly lampooning said comic book movies.  I can’t really argue with that.  While it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the film in the least, that’s a very valid point.  Harley is nowhere near approaching conventional.  So, her movie shouldn’t be, either.  Frankly, variations of any of the Conner/Palmiotti arcs would work just fine.  And, somewhere down the line, a sequel could even introduce Power Girl and use their super-hero story (included here) for a full twist on the genre.
  • Make It Fun  Another common rumor regarding backstage WB policy regarding DC Comics films is that – in order to distinguish themselves from Marvel – they want fun and comedy to be kept to a minimum.  Success never comes to those who are concerned with the affairs of others.  WB shouldn’t be concerned with what anyone is doing except for themselves.  If the fun is taken out of Harley, then the heart is taken out of Harley and your audience will reject the film.  That leads me to . . .
  • Trust the Characters  This has seemingly been WB’s big sticking point regarding their library of DC characters.  “If they aren’t Batman, they’ll lose money,” seems to be the conventional WB “wisdom”.  Rumors of that line of thinking from the higher-ups are starting to rear their ugly heads, once again, regarding the announced Justice League film, even as filming is said to begin in April.  I don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, but that fear will be unfounded if you trust the characters.  That’s why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has exploded.  Marvel understands and believes in its characters.  There’s no good reason for WB not to do the same.  Harley will resonate with movie goers for all the same reasons she resonates with comic readers.  Just market it well and get people into the theaters.  I think if the rest is done as outlined above, or with any other semblance of love and faith, the film would then take care of itself.

As it stands, Harley will make her debut this August in Suicide Squad.  It looks promising and I’m excited to see it, but Harley as a solo act is an untapped, obvious, and natural source of money and goodwill.  Just like Deadpool, she’s a character poised to break through into the general public consciousness and WB would be foolish not to jump on the opportunity.  With a potentially unlimited audience appeal and a versatile, well-rounded character, Harley is what the world is waiting for.  If you thought the Joker was fun . . . wait ’til you getta load o’ her.

Interlude – “Harley Quinn = Money” Should Be Warner Brothers’s Takeaway From the Success of Deadpool

10. The Witch

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“The Witch” is one of those movies.  It’s one of those movies that divides audiences.  It divides the group who actually enjoy seeing something different from the group who only say they do (this phenomenon will be the subject of a column, sometime in the future).  And make no mistake, “The Witch” is not your traditional, conventional horror tale.

Loosely inspired by actual events in addition to a solid helping of folklore, “The Witch” never strives to placate the general audience.  First-time director Robert Eggers did extensive research into the 17th century way of life, as well as the legends of the time period, in order to craft a piece of work that never feels anything less than authentic.  What that means is that the film doesn’t stick to the typical Hollywood structure – certainly not for horror films.  It plays out at a believable, natural pace, never shoehorning terrifying moments or jump scares into places they don’t belong just because that’s when an entitled audience expects or demands them.  In fact, don’t expect jump scares, at all.  This film doesn’t have them.  This is art-house horror.  It’s sophisticated, smart, mature, delicate, and it works, as long as you’re open-minded and have an attention span (more on that, later).

As I watched the film, I started making comparisons to, believe it or not, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.  No, those similarities weren’t drawn in any way, whatsoever, due to the content of the films.  But they were strikingly similar works in terms of structure.  Both films rely heavily on dialogue to establish character and tone as well as to propel the story forward.  Eggers clearly (and rightfully) subscribes to the oft-held belief that what you don’t see is scarier than what you do.  There is a lot here that we’re told about rather than shown.  And it’s for the best.  How many times have we been shown the source of terror in a horror movie, only to think, “That’s it?  Well, that’s not as scary as I expected it to be.”?  It happens, a lot, and I know you can think of several examples off the top of your head.  So, rather than ruin any groundwork before it’s done being laid, a steady sense of dread and unease is built throughout the picture using dialogue, just like Basterds.  And, also, just like that film, it leads to a powerful climax that resonates and leaves a lasting impression.  In taking this approach, The Witch doesn’t aim to scare; it aims to disturb.  And disturb, it does.  That’s much more satisfying than any number of jump scares (though I have nothing against jump scares.  They can be fun.).

If there’s one problem I have with the film, it’s that the 17th-century New England accents are so thick that, at times, they are difficult for me to understand.  Truly, though, that’s my limitation, not the film’s.  The cast does a wonderful job of replicating said accents and further immersing the audience in the period.  I think this film may be a launching pad for Anya Taylor-Joy if the right people see it.  She really gets a chance to shine and to demonstrate impressive range, in a moment’s notice ably switching from sweet and endearing to suspiciously frightening and doing it with ease.  It’s truly a breakthrough performance.

That’s not to cast shade on the rest of the cast.  Taylor-Joy gets the meatiest part, but everyone – even the children – get their moment(s) to shine and they all capitalize on them.  I was fully convinced that they were born-and-bred Puritans and if I saw any of them walking around town, I’d have to take a moment to remind myself that they’re actors and that time travel has, sadly, not yet been invented.  It isn’t just due to the accents, either.  The full commitment of the entire cast to every scene almost makes the film feel like actual found footage (though it was not presented as a found-footage film) rather than a modern-day production.

In addition to all of this, The Witch is a complex, layered think-piece whose themes can just as easily apply to modern times as they do to the 1600s.  It’s also the type of film to not talk down to the audience by explaining everything for them.  In fact, I need to see it again in order to connect all of the dots, myself.  And I love that.  Don’t take that the wrong way; the film isn’t hard to understand or follow.  But the connections between all of the events aren’t spelled out and require some thought and investigation.  I’m anxious to check it out again, in the future, and fill in some of the minor gaps.  A great film should encourage revisits and this one does.

I can’t finish, here, without mentioning a couple of things.  First off, this film is formally endorsed by the Satanic Temple as a realistic representation of a true Satanic experience.  (They also suggest that Ted Cruz becoming President could be very beneficial for them.  I wish I disagreed with them on that point.)  If that doesn’t lend some credibility to the legitimacy of the research and depiction of the events, then what else will?

I also find it interesting that the two best films of the year so far, this and Deadpool, were by first-time film directors.  That suggests that new ideas from fresh faces should be nourished, both by studios and by audiences.

There are people who will say that The Witch is boring.  They will be the people who zone out during extended dialogue or hate anything that doesn’t take place in modern-day America.  Then, they’ll whine about sequels and remakes, claiming to want freshness from Hollywood, only to once again call the next fresh idea they encounter “boring” or “weird” or  “stupid”.  Welcome to the Age of the Internet, where nobody likes anything.  We didn’t bring snacks because they all taste suck.

Well, the posers can kindly stay out of the theater and let the rest of us enjoy the freedom of art and expression that results in films like The Witch.

NOTABLE AUDIENCE MEMBERS:
After over an hour of build, the climax begins and, naturally, I see a woman four rows in front of me pull out her phone and light up the whole theater.  She and the guy she was with come into the movie just as it’s beginning (usually a bad sign), sit down, and she immediately turns to the woman behind her, says that she had seen the film, the night before, and it’s terrific.  She turns back around and immediately takes out her phone during the trailers, too.

I allow it during the trailers (even though that’s a no-no) and she puts it away by the time the movie begins.  But when she turns it on – and keeps it on – during the film, itself, I get up, stomp down to her, and ask her to put it away.  When I get to her, I can see that she’s shopping (!) and just taking her sweet time.  After, all, she’s seen the movie, right?  To her credit, she apologizes when I speak to her, puts the phone away, and doesn’t get it back out.  I’ve had situations like that go worse.

But, people, listen to me.  If you’re so much of a little twelve-year-old girl that you can’t stay off of your phone for a couple of hours and show proper respect to a storied art form as well as to the others around you who paid to appreciate that art form, then stay home, where nobody will give two armadillo colon polyps that your attention span is so low you have a bookmark to use for when you’re attempting to read tea leaves.  If your need for attention and validation is so lacking that you can’t stay off of Facebook or Twitter or Instagram long enough to immerse yourself in a wondrous world of imagination, then there’s bound to be a loving mirror full of infatuation in your house that will look dead into your eyes until you collapse from dehydration, Narcissus.

But get out of the movie theater.  And don’t come back.

10. The Witch

9. Race

Race Poster

When I was in sixth grade, we were given an assignment to choose and read a biography and then, naturally, write a report on whatever we chose.  I ended up reading a biography on Jesse Owens.  I don’t really recall how I arrived at that decision (probably a suggestion from my parents), but it left a lasting impression on me.  I still remember the powerful emotions elicited when reading about his face-off with Adolf Hitler and was excited to relive them while watching this film.

That didn’t quite happen.  Race is a mostly competent film.  The cast is strong from top to bottom.  Stephan James and Jason Sudeikis, in particular, own their roles and earn their casting.  James carries a quiet strength and conviction throughout the entire film and is likeable and endearing from the opening frame.  Sudeikis seems like an odd choice for this type of film (and how dare he try to branch out!) but his character possesses a snide sharpness to his demeanor.  It’s a perfect fit for Sudeikis that allows him the opportunity for range without being completely out of his wheelhouse.  Brilliant casting.  The rest of the supporting cast, Jeremy Irons, Shanice Banton, and William Hurt also hold up their end of the bargain (particularly Irons), even if Hurt can’t stop squinting, ever.

The rest of the film is predominantly a mixture of good and mediocre.  No aspect of the film fails to any spectacular degree, but it also never truly shines the way I expected it to.  In reference to the clever-but-obvious double-meaning of the title, it felt to me as though the film tries to tackle both issues but only scratches the surface of both.  The fallout of that approach is that the film becomes largely formulaic, which is a shame.

There’s a danger in frequently adapting true (or mostly true) life stories to film due to the common arc that many of them share.  Now, what happens happens, and I understand that.  And every story has the right to be told, regardless of any similarities to previously-told stories (and how crazy were the similarities between Walk the Line and Ray?!).  But it pains me when I see a story that has some truly unique components that are treated as common.  That was this movie.

Director Stephen Hopkins tries to balance the film as both a biopic and an inspirational drama.  As a result, the film feels unfocused, at times.  For example, there’s a brief subplot involving some drama between Owens and his girlfriend that serves no purpose towards furthering the main story.  It has absolutely nothing to do with either meaning of the word “race” and only serves to slow the narrative down with an unnecessary distraction.

Even worse, there are several instances where events that should be huge, moving moments of triumph instead feel completely rushed and anti-climactic.  The moment Owens has supposedly been training his whole life for arrives, comes, and goes in about 90 seconds with a short, moderately-enthusiastic celebration.  No euphoria.  No fanfare.  This might have well have been the end of a Little League baseball game.  And then, even though his entire goal in participating in the Olympics is to stick it to Hitler, he’s inexplicably insulted and saddened when Hitler doesn’t want to meet him after Owens does that very thing.  That’s a win!  Doesn’t he want Hitler to be upset?  Isn’t Hitler’s childish reaction an unabashed validation of all of his hard work and desire?  Look, I wasn’t there, that day.  Maybe that’s how it actually happened.  But it just doesn’t ring true to me, in any form.  (Edit: After looking into it, I have discovered that this was not how it happened.  This explains how it truly happened.  So, this was just an example of shoddy, irresponsible filmmaking on every level and has significantly lowered my opinion of the film.)

I believe Race would have been better served by highlighting Owens’s time at the Olympics in Germany.  Give his basic background story, establish the primary characters and their motivations, then get the audience to Germany within 45 minutes.  There was enough going on over there to sustain the film for the remainder of its running time.  And that event is what makes this story different from any other biopic ever filmed.  Build the tension, focus on the antagonism, and establish Owens as a figurehead, not for America, not for black people, but for anyone who has ever been oppressed throughout human history.  Because this movie – this story – isn’t about being black.  It’s about racism and discrimination in all of its forms and how each of us can find ways to fight it in our own, personal way.  I understand that, until his time in Germany, Owens’s only frame of reference for this issue was from the perspective of a black man.  But his realization that this type of treatment is extended to so many other types of people of various origins is yet another moment that is glossed over in about two minutes of dialogue.  The wrong elements were hastened in order to make time for irrelevant story points.  To that point, Jesse Owens finds himself in the position to fight the aforementioned racism and bigotry and it happens to be at the highest possible profile against the largest possible demon of the cause.  Every blow that is struck by Owens should feel like a massive triumph.  The first blow, in particular, should carry immense weight.  Instead, I thought, “Oh, this is it?  . . .  Oh, wait, it’s over?  And now it’s the next scene?  Well, then.”

Race just struck me largely as a missed opportunity.  I should have been moved to tears – or at least come pretty close – several times, but I never even came close.  I was still invested in Owens’s journey, primarily due to James and Sudeikis, but I never felt compelled to jump out of my seat in celebration.  I was more invested in last year’s journey of the fictional Adonis Creed than I was in the very real and significant journey of Jesse Owens.  That’s extremely unfortunate.

I didn’t dislike Race.  I’m not suggesting anyone avoid it.  It was simply a pretty good movie that could – and should – have been great.

9. Race

Interlude – Audiences Demanded An Unfaithful Deadpool, Got It, And It’s a Huge Success

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Oh, hey, there.  Thanks for clicking.  I admit, the headline is a little over-the-top.  The Deadpool we got in the film isn’t entirely unfaithful.  As I said in my original thoughts on the film (riiiiiiiight here), the characterization is pretty much dead-on.  And his origin is pretty close, too.  But, as an adaptation of the comic material, it’s about as far off as any comic adaptation to come along.

Before I get any further into this, I’m not criticizing the film.  It mostly works and is superbly entertaining.  The changes hurt the film in no discernable, palpable way.  As of this writing, it made an estimated $47.5 million on its opening day (a record for an R-rated film) and is on the way to an estimated $135 million opening weekend (also an R-rated record).  It’s a critical, financial, and artistic success.  What I’m here to talk about is how many comic fans not only could have very well shot themselves in the foot by making demands on the content of the movie but also exposed themselves as hypocrites along the way.

When Deadpool was officially announced after some “leaked” test footage of the previously-abandoned project got the movie world buzzing, everyone cheered.  Finally, we were going to see the real Deadpool, the Deadpool we wanted and always loved, and not be stuck solely with the memory of the abomination that appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  Imaginations started running wild with possibilities.  It was almost a can’t-miss!  The humor!  The action!  The uniqueness!  Oh, and also, it had to be rated R!

Wait.  It what, now?

Suddenly, so-called comic “fans” demanded that the film be R-rated in order to be faithful to the comic and character as he’s been presented over the years.  And these people were full of themselves in proclaiming this demand, as well.  Saying that, if anyone disagreed, they obviously didn’t read comics (“Sick burn,” as the Tenderloins would say.).  “Trust us, it’s the only way it will work.  We’re the experts here.”

Except they clearly weren’t the experts on anything.  To this very day, I’m not sure where anyone got the idea that Deadpool absolutely needed to be rated R.  There were two DEADPOOL MAX series that were for adults.  They only lasted a total of twelve issues, weren’t even counted as canon, and many fans didn’t even like them (I liked them better upon a second read).  Outside of that, there was no precedent for an R-rated Deadpool film.  There are essentially three core components that can lead to an R rating: sex, violence, and language/dialogue.  Let’s look at them, individually.  There will be slight spoilers for the film, here.

  • Sex
    Comics – Deadpool has sex.  He likes sex.  He wants to have sex with virtually every attractive woman he sees.  All sex occurs off-panel.  We never see nudity in the books except for maybe a glimpse of a naked rear, typically partially obscured.  Even if not, a naked rear is not enough to warrant an R-rating.  Naked rears are fairly common on television, even.  (Also, “rear” is not my normal word of choice for the posterior but I’m trying to be somewhat professional, here.)  Some suggestive sexual humor, but nothing too off-color or gratuitous.Film – On-screen sex with barely-obscured nudity.  Strip club scene with background/foreground nudity that isn’t a focus but is impossible to miss.  Strong sexual dialogue.
  • Violence
    Comics – This is where Deadpool’s comics push the boundaries.  Limb and heads fly, blood gushes, guts spill, and nothing is off-limits.  This is probably where people were coming from when thinking about an R-rating.  But, remember, the rhetoric was that the film “had” to be rated R.  Also, Wolverine comics also contain this level of violence.  Consensus has never demanded that a Wolverine film be rated R.  In fact, The Wolverine was one of the most faithful comic book films ever made in terms of tone and character (and is one of my favorites) and it sat at a solid PG-13.Film – Just slightly above what can be seen on an episode of “The Walking Dead”.  Most of the gore is kept off-screen.  One splattered body, one flying head, and one severed hand.  Lots of punching, kicking, and shooting.  Trim 3-5 seconds of footage and the violence could have passed on television.
  • Language and Dialogue
    Comics – Nothing too crazy.  Typically PG-13 level with some censored stronger language, here and there.  This is normal for comics.  I saw censored language by Peter Quill/Star-Lord in the new issue of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, last week, for example.  Does this mean that next year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 should now be rated R with a potty-mouthed Chris Pratt?Film – As R-rated as language gets.  Nothing more to say, here.

So, where does this get us?  It gets us to the conclusion that a potential Deadpool film could be R-rated based on the comics and, if so, in an effort to be truly faithful to the source material, that R-rating would stem from the violence.  But the violence in the film was relatively muted.  As stated above, just a few seconds less and it would have passed cable TV standards.  It’s clear that the violence didn’t help the rating but it also wasn’t what the filmmakers had in mind when they aimed for the rating.  The R-rating almost entirely comes from the sexual themes and the language.  And this is in direct contradiction to the character and his mainstream comics.

So, what happened?  Why were people demanding an R-rated Deadpool?  I even saw a meme, last week, that chastised parents who were potentially going to take their kids to the film because they were “uneducated” for not knowing that Deadpool has “historically been presented as an R-rated character”.  Has he?  Not verbally or sexually, that’s for sure.  What about through violence?  Nobody was demanding that the new SPIDER-MAN/DEADPOOL comic series be aimed at adults.  So why the film?  I think I know.

When Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld created Deadpool for NEW MUTANTS #98, he fit right in beside the rest of Marvel’s X-Men characters.  No more or no less “adult” than any other typical X-Man.  From there, Deadpool got a few miniseries and then finally landed his own ongoing title, initially written by Joe Casey and drawn by Ed McGuinness. (Volume 1 – along with his first appearance –  is right here.)  Throughout this series, Deadpool remained a steadfast PG-13 character, as well.  A little edgy, yes.  Bits of cartoony violence, as well, but still nothing so over-the-top that he stood out as any more adult-skewing than any other of the edgier characters.  It was also here that he began to become a little more unique as his fourth-wall breaking began (though it wasn’t really all that unique as She-Hulk was breaking the fourth wall almost a full decade before Deadpool ever did and two years before he even existed.  Read one of the best comic runs ever right here!).

And then what happened?  His book got cancelled.  Not many people were buying it.  And he all but vanished altogether.  For years.  And years.  And years.  Until 2008.

Daniel Way was writing a comic called WOLVERINE:ORIGINS in which an amnesiac Wolverine was investigating into his own past.  In one particular story arc, who does he encounter but . . . you guessed it . . . Deadpool?  After years of being an afterthought that nobody cared about, Way resurrected him and put him in a multi-issue slugfest with the iconic Wolverine.  Both characters have high-level healing factors which prolonged the battle over several issues and made it extremely gory, violent, unique, and inventive.  Combined with Deadpool’s sense of humor, it got the character a lot of attention and the story was a huge hit.  (Buy it here.)

Due to reader response to that story, Daniel Way was given his own brand-new DEADPOOL ongoing series.  He carried over the humor and violence from the Wolverine story and it caught fire.  Deadpool has been a huge seller and Marvel mainstay ever since.  If you knew of Deadpool before this past weekend, Daniel Way is likely the reason why.  (Here’s Volume 1!)

So, with exaggerated violence now being a hallmark of the book and the character, combined with his earlier adventures being far-less exposed, this led more casual comic fans to assume that Deadpool had always been that violent.  And, certainly, if presented as it was in the comics, that violence would be R-rated on film.  So, in the minds of many, Deadpool was an R-rated character.  And an R-rating carries certain other connotations with it, too, right?  So, he must also be sexual and profane.  It just follows.

Of course, longtime Deadpool fans and readers knew better.  But anytime the voice of reason speaks up online, it’s silenced with rudeness, bullying, and more numbskulled Internet memes.  So, in the minds of the public, Deadpool “had” to be rated R.

Even co-creator Rob Liefeld disagrees, stating that the comics have never been that adult (you can see that here).  And, while I loved the R-rated film we got (seen it twice, will see it more), I think some fun opportunities were lost in not having a PG-13 film.  I’ve already established that the violence could have been only slightly trimmed to fit a PG-13.  The sex and language could have been tackled in a completely original, never-been-done before way that would have added to the humor of the film.  Imagine that Deadpool tries to drop his first f-bomb and, instead, we hear a bleeping sound.  Then it continues for a second, third, fourth time, until he finally outright acknowledges it, saying that it his “bleep-ing” movie and he can “bleep-ing” say what he “bleep-ing” wants.  It could be a running joke,  He visits the strip club where there are actual black bars covering up the . . . ahem . . naughty bits.  It would have done a disservice to the gravity of that particular scene to acknowledge those in that moment, but perhaps there could have been one final scene with Vanessa right before – or even during – the credits that would address it in a comical way.

Those are just ideas off the top of my head.  It wouldn’t have to play out exactly like that, but you get the point.  The R-rating likely created a sense of obligation for the filmmakers while subsequently limiting their creativity.

The irony in all of this is that the same fans who demanded the unfaithful changes in order to satisfy their fantasy of an R rating are the very same people who whine about changes being made from original source material to film adaptations.  Well, they can stop worrying now, can’t they?  Look what happened!  Lots of changes were made and they loved the film and it’s also a huge success!

Other than all of the changes I’ve already mentioned, here are some others.  In the comics . . . (more spoilers)

  • Weasel is a computer genius, not a bartender.
  • Vanessa also has super-powers and, while she toes the line, is often presented as a villain.
  • Colossus and Deadpool have no strong association in the comics and I can’t recall Deadpool and Negasonic Teenage Warhead ever even meeting (though I may just be forgetting that).  They were choices based on the film needs/desires, not the comics.
  • Deadpool has one or two (depending on the era) voices in his head that he interacts with.  This has become a very popular component of the character.
  • Bob is in Hydra.  Darned licensing rights!
  • Blind Al is white.
  • Deadpool YEARNS to be in the X-Men.  Daniel Way did a whole multi-issue story arc in which Deadpool was trying to prove to them that he deserved to be part of the team.
  • Ajax has a whole costume thing going on.  And he doesn’t run the program that creates Deadpool.  Doctor Killebrew does.

And those are just off the top of my head.  My point isn’t that I’m upset about the changes.  My point is that people demanded an entirely accurate Deadpool film, didn’t get anything all that close to it (and it was largely their own fault), and it was okay!  It worked out fine!

It worked because we got lucky.  We got lucky to have people making the film who love Deadpool but also understand him.  Deadpool isn’t popular because of the violence.  If that was it, those three Punisher films would have made hundreds of millions of dollars.  Instead almost nobody saw them.  Deadpool isn’t popular because of any sexual or profane elements, either.  Those don’t really exist to any heightened degree with regards to Deadpool.  And, though it’s part of it, it’s not even Deadpool’s sense of humor that does it.  What makes Deadpool work is what’s behind the humor: his earnestness.

Deadpool is very rarely deliberately making jokes.  He says constantly hilarious things but what makes them especially funny is that, to him, they usually aren’t jokes; he means them.  He isn’t trying to be funny.  He’s just being himself and his sincere beliefs and desires are so far removed from anybody else that it’s hilarious.

Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds get that.  Sure, there are some deliberate jokes made by Deadpool in the film but, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that those are almost always (if not completely always) when the mask is off and he’s Wade Wilson.

Further leading to the film’s success is that Miller and Reynolds understood that he was likely to be a hard sell.  When people irrationally started demanding an R-rated film, they knew they had to push for it, too, because if they wanted a chance of the movie breaking out, they needed to build up good will with the target audience.  Look what happened with Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four.  Due to feeling that their voice wasn’t being heard, most people decided a year before it was even released that they didn’t like the film.  And so, when it came out, they found every reason they could justify their hate for it, whether they actually saw the film, or not (it wasn’t great but it wasn’t all that bad, either, if we’re being objective).  Miller and Reynolds knew they couldn’t afford that, so they pushed for the R rating while also staying true to what makes the character so popular to begin with.

So, while many people believe we got an excellent, successful Deadpool film because of their demands, in truth we got one in spite of them.  We got the movie we got because – shock! – the filmmakers knew what they were doing better than the fans did.  I shudder to think what kind of film the “fans” would have made, but it likely would have been devoid of brains and heart.  And, worst of all, Deadpool.

Thankfully, a bullet was dodged.  We got a Deadpool film to enjoy and to be proud of.  But a lesson should also have been learned, here.  Leave the filmmaking to the professionals.

 

Interlude – Audiences Demanded An Unfaithful Deadpool, Got It, And It’s a Huge Success

8. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

PPZ poster

Guess what?  I am completely unfamiliar with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  Sorry.  Just am.  No particular reason.  I never had to read it in school.  And I read a lot of books – many of them classics – but that one just hasn’t crossed my path, yet.  Nor have any of the film adaptations.  So, I would imagine that I may be missing many references and Easter eggs, here, that others will catch.  Is this what it’s like to watch a Marvel film without ever having read a comic book?  If so, then I was always right in my assumption about that: it works for fans and for the newbies.

Right up front, I have to say that I have no idea who was considered Pride and Prejudice and Zombie‘s target audience, if anyone at all.  As I sat watching it, I came to believe that the filmmakers were more concerned with just letting the film take ownership of itself than they were with forcing it to try to appeal to any specific demographic(s).  In my mind, this helped it artistically, but crushed it, financially.

In much the same way that the film refuses to cater to the audience, it also resists being pigeonholed into a genre.  One is always supposed to know one’s audience and I’m pretty sure that the filmmakers felt the same way I did in the previous paragraph.  They had no clue who the audience was going to be.  So, they didn’t try to classify the film to satisfy an audience that too often demands said classification.  It’s not scary.  At all (other than a non-traditional jump or two).  It doesn’t attempt to be.  That’s not why it’s here.  It does have some comedic elements, but never goes for belly-laughs.  It’s a much more understated, dry, deadpan style of humor that – in all honesty – completely works for the picture.  After all, were Victorian-era Brits really known for their comedic stylings?  When were jokes even invented?  Not before then, from what I’ve been taught.  There are also some dramatic elements, but nothing so heavy that it could be classified as a drama.

What all of this boils down to is that it’s my favorite style of movie: a mishmash of genres that accurately reflects real life.  Nobody’s days are ever made up of just drama or just comedy or just horror and when films reflect that truth, they gain points in my book.  As I’ve stated before, films are art and art should be open to expression.  I appreciate that director Burr Steers didn’t feel obligated to pigeonhole his film into any particular genre in order to meet expectations.  One can never meet everyone’s expectations, anyway, so there’s no need to try.  Make your movie, tell your story, and it let it be what it is.  And Steers does that.

And I, myself, ended up having a good time, for the most part.  The dialogue wasn’t always sparklingly captivating.  And the end fell victim to one of my least favorite clichés (or “tropes” as people like to say when they don’t want to admit it was lazy writing), which I won’t spoil here.  That was my biggest complaint with the film, though, and I found much more to enjoy than I did to complain about.

The biggest joy to behold, by far, is the performance of Lily James.  I don’t remember her turn in Clash of the Titans and I’ve never watched Downton Abbey, so my only recollection of her was in last year’s painfully flat and dull Cinderella.  In that film, she had nothing to work with.  She had to fall in line with the rest of the film, which (with the exception of Lucy Punch) was the most straightforward, uninspired, paint-by-numbers adaptation of anything I’ve ever seen.  And I would assume that she was directed to perform in the same way.

In Pride, James gets to show off.  It’s often in subtle ways – a vocal inflection, here, a facial tic, there – because she is, after all, supposed to be a “lady”.  But there’s depth to her character.  She takes advantage of a role-reversal scenario where she’s the hero and the men play (what’s the male version of he word “damsel”?  Oh . . . got it!) Samsel in distress.  She’s a woman striving for (here comes the new buzz word that all the kids are using these days) agency in a time and place when most women were there solely to marry and breed.  (Granted, her quest for this agency largely revolves around marriage but there’s such a thing as artistic integrity and that pretty much had to be the launching point for the women’s lib movement in this story. One step at a time.   And, after all, love is part of life – for men and women, both – and it’s silly to claim that anytime a woman falls for a man in a film, it’s sexist.  Some people just yearn to be outraged.)  And in both her quieter moments and her more expressive scenes, it seems to me that James is having a lot of fun.  That projects itself to the screen every time she’s on-camera and makes her Pride character every bit as endearing and dare I say attractive as she was supposed to be in Cinderella.  If she can carry this charisma forward into her future roles, I could easily be converted from a fan of this singular performance to a full-blown Lily James fan.

The other characters – especially the men – fall into the more traditional archetypes for this kind of story.  The men are cocky and bull-headed, not one of them to be trusted, and fighting over whichever woman they deem most attractive.  But that isn’t a slight on the filmmakers.  That’s the entire point of the film.  James’s character can’t be special or unique if any others are also breaking from stereotype in a significant way.

Also, the movie is probably the most beautiful film I’ve seen, so far, this year.  The cinematography is just gorgeous and Steers knows how to frame a shot.  I kept thinking how great this would look on blu-ray on my LED TV at home.  Even when the dialogue lulled, from time to time, I never wanted to take my eyes off of the screen.

Oh, hey!  There were zombies in this, too!  Pride throws its own twist onto the zombie virus and I always appreciate getting something a little different.  I never felt like the rules were fully explained, however, but I suppose they don’t have to be.  Some things just seemed to happen really, really quickly and I’m not sure how or why.  That didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the film, though.  And while the zombies cast a shadow over the entire narrative, they aren’t omnipresent and seem to be more symbolic of the mindset of the people of that era than a source of scares or a constant feeling of dread.  The timing of their appearances always seemed to coincide with some sort of oppressive notion and the second any of the zombies appeared to be veering from the conservative hive mind . . . well, things didn’t end well for it.  So, this zombie movie, like many others before it, has some subtext.  But you have to look for it.

This being only the second weekend that Pride is in release, I was surprised to see that my local theater only had two showings on a Saturday.  It’s already on the way out, after a $5.3 million opening weekend on a $28 million budget.  So, what happened?  My best guess is that, in trying to appeal to no one, specific, it appealed to no one, at all.  Girls were turned off by all the zombies and guys were turned off by all the pride and prejudice.  And that’s a shame.  While I’d say the movie is my second-favorite of the year, so far (behind Deadpool), it wasn’t so great that it will end up on my Top Ten of 2016 list, or anything (unless the summer and Oscar-bait seasons are unusually weak) , but it deserves an audience.

I don’t often say this, but maybe this is a rare instance where changing it to an R-rated film would have helped.  The violence and the sexiness were both present but also muted and it seems like when people see zombies, they want full-on violence and when they see Victorian-era Britain, they want full-on sexiness.  At this point, trying that couldn’t have lowered the box office returns.  The story could have stayed exactly as it is but maybe with more eyeballs and more box office returns, which is always the ultimate goal.  But, hey, it’s easy to say that now.  They took a gamble, made a call, and – for whatever reason – it didn’t work out financially.

Still, it’s enjoyable if you go in open-minded and let it be what it is instead of what you demand it to be.  Always keep in mind that these films are not yours; they are someone else’s personal vision and expression and it’s often hard to share something like that with anyone, much less the general public.  I always avoid judging a film for what it isn’t and instead focus on what it is.  So, what is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?  It’s beautiful, self-aware, unique, a little unfocused, and silly – but in all the right ways, with a performance by James that is a bit of a coming out party.

And it will look great on blu-ray on my LED TV.

8. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

7. Deadpool

deadpool-poster-load

You need to understand this: I love Deadpool.  Really.  I didn’t learn about Deadpool after the film was announced and jump on the bandwagon.  I didn’t discover him from thousands of cutesy Internet memes and then declare myself a knowledgeable fan without ever reading a single issue of any of his comic book series.  No, I’m a legit, Deadpool-obsessed geek freak.  I have every comic book ever produced with the word “Deadpool” in the title (and every variant of every one of those books) and, in addition, I’ve read them all.  Recently.  (And I go to the gym, regularly, too.  Surprise, surprise.)

So, I know my stuff.  I know my Deadpool.  I understand what makes him work and what makes him popular.  I understand what makes him unique.  I’m not satisfied just reading this stuff.  I study it.  I talk to the people who do it for a living.  I recently had a long, face-to-face discussion about Deadpool with Fabian Nicieza, his co-creator, this past May.  We talked at length about the origins of the character and his evolution in the decades since.  It was fascinating to hear things from his perspective and get a better understanding of his intentions at the time that Deadpool was born.

Coming into the movie, I had liked a lot of what I’d seen in the trailers, but some of it gave me a little cause for concern, too.  While the marketing for this movie was genius (among the best ever), it wasn’t exactly the Deadpool that I’d come to love.  Close, but not exactly.  And, don’t get me wrong; it didn’t necessarily have to be.  Things change from one medium to another.  They have to.  I know that.  I embrace that.  But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t hoping to see that guy that I spend so, so, so much of my money on.

So, was he that guy?  Almost entirely.  In tone, absolutely.  In character – again – absolutely.  In content . . . mostly.  I’m going to write an entire post on that, next week.  For now, I’ll say that I never felt like I was being robbed of the Deadpool I wanted to see.

But, enough about that.  Most people are going into this movie completely ignorant of the character.  What about them?  Well, as long as you go in knowing that this is an R-rated film and you’re prepared to handle grown-up things like a grown-up, you should have a blast.  The film is hilarious, for one.  And it seriously challenges “Guardians of the Galaxy” for my favorite opening credits sequence, too.  It brilliantly sets the tone and distinguishes the film right from the start as being something new and different in the comic book movie genre.

And for the most part, it stays that way.  The origin slows the film down, a bit, stealing much of its fun as well as its momentum.  But the origin had to be told.  Deadpool isn’t Spider-Man.  Most people don’t know his backstory.  Director Tim Miller and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick appear to feel the same way – that it had to be told, so they were telling it.  Not that it was told haphazardly or carelessly.  But while the origin is successful at giving Deadpool a sympathetic side, it’s also the area in which Deadpool feels most like the typical comic book film.  Being aware of this, the filmmakers cleverly toy with the movie’s structure and that goes a long way towards at least diluting the problem.

Let’s talk about casting.  It’s perfect.  Okay, that was easy.

But, seriously, Ryan Reynolds embodies Deadpool.  And he clearly loves the character.  You can’t go wrong with that combination.  Morena Baccarin gets to do some of her best work, here, as well, in quality if not quantity.  While they’re the standouts, everybody else holds their own.

One thing that Deadpool does well that echoes other recent successes – primarily the Marvel Studios films (which, being a Fox film, Deadpool is not) – is embrace its comic book roots.  It doesn’t try to ground the film in the real world.  The characters are realistic when it comes to their choices and dialogue (which is a must), but this is a flashy, fun movie that isn’t worried about getting too weird.  Colossus is made of metal, Deadpool spends a large amount of time under his mask, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead gets a sleek X-Men uniform that was cooler than any we’ve seen in the actual X-Men films, themselves.  I would have liked a more comic-booky Ajax but that was probably more of a budget issue than a creative decision.

Speaking of which, another characteristic that sets this film apart from other comic book movies is its aforementioned budget.  Made for a relatively paltry $58 million, Deadpool actually cost less than Brian Singer’s original X-Men that was released 16 years ago (yep, 16 years ago!!!) in 2000.  The production uses every dollar and it shows.  It never feels terribly large-scale, but it doesn’t matter.  It was appropriately scaled for this character and for this story.  Colossus didn’t always feel completely materialized, physically, to me, but that might have just been me looking too hard.

Regardless, according to the tracking, Deadpool will make more than its budget back, this weekend alone.  And that’s just in North America.  So, there will unquestionably be a sequel that’s bigger and badder with even more potential for raucous, rambunctious mayhem.  I have my own personal wish list.  I want to see Siryn!  And a fully realized Vanessa (should I go to Awesome Con in Washington D.C. to meet Morena Baccarin?  Seriously considering that.)!  And, being my favorite of all of Deadpool’s supporting cast, I want to see Shiklah!  “Dracula’s Gauntlet” is my favorite Deadpool story and would be a blast on the big screen!  And, now, all of those things will be possible because this movie is going to be a huge success.

Congrats, Deadpool!  You’re about to become the household name you’ve always deserved to be!  Don’t forget those of us who knew you when!

7. Deadpool

Interlude – Best of the Rest 2015

Honorable Mentions

There were quite a few movies that I loved in 2015 and some of them didn’t quite make my Top Ten for the year.  I wanted to give those that came close a mention and talk about what they did especially well and maybe why they didn’t quite make the final list.  So, here’s a short paragraph, or so, on each.  I didn’t shoot for any certain number of films, here, but I ended up with seven.  In another year, any of these might have cracked my Top Ten.  I present them in alphabetical order.

ANT-MAN
For a Marvel Studios movie, Ant-Man was middle-of-the-road.  That means that it was pretty dang great. It did lots of things right, but most of what it did well, it did well at the B+ level.  Humor that was pretty funny, but not often hilarious.  A story that was fun and interesting, but not particularly revolutionary.  Perfect performances but nothing too outside-the-box as to be a standout.  Strong characters (Marvel’s specialty) but not quite as memorable as many of their others.  Where it truly excelled was in the design of the special effects.  The effects team literally created new, groundbreaking techniques just for this film and it was a sight to behold.  It should have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects and it quite possibly should have won.  No other comic book/action movie has ever existed that was quite like this one and I wish I could have included it in my Top Ten.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT
This isn’t my favorite Tarantino film.  My favorite would have made my Top Ten.  But this was Tarantino doing what Tarantino does – telling a story.  It could have been shorter.  The first half is all character-building and it’s done through a lot of talk (brilliant talk, though, as usual for Tarantino) and very little action.  I don’t mind that, but after a while even I was left wondering where it was all heading.  We were about ninety minutes in and I still wasn’t yet sure what the movie was about.  But then it all breaks loose.  Without spoiling anything, this is basically Tarantino doing Clue.  And it was a fun ride with unpredictable characters and a great cast who looked like they were having the time of their lives.  With a little more focus during the first half, this could have made my Top Ten.

INSIDE OUT
Out of all the films on this list, Inside Out came the closest to making my Top Ten.  It was incredibly difficult – and even a little painful in my soul – to leave it off.  Inside Out is absolutely, without any question whatsoever, the most original, creative, intelligent concept that the world of entertainment has seen in many, many, many years.  Not only coming up with the idea of conscious, anthropomorphic emotions, but then constructing a universe using so many ingenious metaphors, and then finding a way to communicate these incredibly complex ideas so that general audiences and even kids could follow them by somehow wrapping it all around a simple, relatable human story was too amazing for words.  Though I just tried.  The humor fell a little flat for me and it didn’t quite resonate emotionally like Pixar intended and that’s why it fell just behind Straight Outta Compton on my list.  But this is a must-see for absolutely everyone and I’m just tickled that this intelligent, meaningful animated picture domestically out-grossed Minions, the latest entry in the creatively- and intellectually-stunted Despicable Me franchise.

JURASSIC WORLD
Jurassic World gets a lot of flak for lacking an original take or major story twists.  To those people, I say two things: 1.  You’re right, and 2.  Lighten up.  Sometimes, it’s possible to overcomplicate things.  This movie needed to do two basic things – thrill audiences and look amazing.  It accomplished both with the greatest of ease.  Well, not really.  This stuff is never easy.  But they made it look easy.  And that kind of worked against it as people don’t realize how difficult it is to pull off a film like this, even when the story is fairly straightforward.  Trying to revive a classic and beloved franchise (the original is the movie that made me love movies) is incredibly difficult to do, but Colin Trevorrow and gang did it.  And I can’t wait for more.  Had the script been a little wittier and on-point with its humor (Chris Pratt felt woefully underutilized), it might have made my Top Ten.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
The biggest complaint about this film is that it’s light on story, much like Jurassic World.  And that’s completely accurate.  Director George Miller was actually a guest of Conan O’Brien, last week, and he remarked that his goal was to make a silent film with sound.  He wanted it to be a throwback picture that could be understood by anyone, regardless of what language they speak.  I found that interesting.  No matter your take on that, Fury Road was pure adrenaline and the fact that the overwhelming majority of the special effects were done practically and not through CGI (which are called “visual effects”, so even though it should win at the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, it actually had very few visual effects.  That category should probably be re-named.) is almost impossible to fathom.  Mix in the unique characters (and character design) and the strong performances and I don’t begrudge any of the nominations that this film is getting.  For me,  it would have made my Top Ten if there were more story points that took me by surprise.  Otherwise, I loved it.

UNFRIENDED
It’s just all the rage these days to hate on any and every horror movie that comes along.  It’s as though people’s biggest fear is what others will think of them if they admit they like something or that they jumped in a movie theater or got a little creeped out.  Well, I don’t care what anybody thinks about me.  I know good filmmaking when it slaps me in the face, and that’s what Unfriended did.  Yes, it had a fun, scary ambiance but it also took a very unique approach unlike anything I had seen before (although I have since watched The Den.  I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the folks behind Unfriended hadn’t, at the time they were making this film.).  I applaud anything with a fresh approach.  On top of that, the film contained a deadly accurate portrayal of modern online culture and exists as an exaggerated – but appropriate – cautionary tale.  Yet, it never gets so heavy-handed that it loses its fun factor.  Easily my favorite horror movie of 2015.

THE VISIT
He’s back.  And he’s back to his true form.  Like many others, I was once a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s work.  The Sixth Sense was an unqualified masterpiece which he followed up with several other solid works.  For me, he started to lose his touch with Lady in the Water and completely went off the rails with The Happening, which is one of my least-favorite films I’ve ever seen.  With The Visit (which he paid for himself, apparently), he returns to what worked for him at the beginning of his career: the unexpected.  That doesn’t necessarily mean a huge twist.  But audiences like to be pleasantly surprised and this film delivers in that regard.  There are plenty of unexpected laughs and unexpected scares, both from unexpected sources.  Again, it’s kewl to h8 on this movie, but that’s only for people who can’t be objective.  And for people who say they hated Ed Oxenbould’s portrayal of Tyler because he was “annoying”, I have to tell you, that’s pretty much exactly how kids that age act and he was hilariously spot on.  For the first time in what feels like forever, I’m excited to see what Shyamalan has coming next and that feels great.

Interlude – Best of the Rest 2015