Interlude – My Eleven Favorite TV Characters

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Okay, I know.  This isn’t a post about movies!  Well, you’re right.  But television programming and presentation has advanced so far in the last decade, or so, that much of it is cinematic in nature.  Also, it’s my site and I can do what I want.

So, these are my Eleven Favorite Television Characters of all-time.  As always, there are a couple of rules for this list.

  1. I’m only including one character from any given show.  There are several shows on the list that could have easily dominated the whole thing, but that wouldn’t be fun, now would it?
  2. I’m only counting television versions of characters.  I don’t care what the characters are like in the novels or movies or comics in which they originated.  At least, not as far as this list goes.
  3. I will, as always, do my best to avoid spoilers, but I will be discussing why these particular characters spoke to me, so be aware of that.
  4. None of these characters would be great without the people who play(ed) them.  So, rather than praise each individual actor for their talents, I’m just going to give them their due and a collective standing ovation, right here and now.  *claps*
  5. The list is fairly fluid.  Number one is set in stone, but the others could swap places based on my mood on any given day.  It’s tough to rank characters when you love all of them so much.  Why do you think I did eleven, instead of ten?  I couldn’t bring myself to leave any of these off!
  6. Yes, I saw “Breaking Bad”.  Yes, I saw “Battlestar Galactica”.  Yes, I loved both.  But none of those characters spoke to me on the same level that these below did.  Sorry.  Met Edward James Olmos, though, and he’s as nice a human being as I’ve ever encountered.

And that’s it!  There are, however, a . . . well . . . BUNCH of characters that I wanted to give some love to, but didn’t quite make the list.  So, here’s a quick mention of those who could have made it, but didn’t, in no particular order: Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson, “The Office”), Butters Stotch (Matt Stone, “South Park”), Alf (Paul Fusco, “Alf”), David Addison (Bruce Willis, “Moonlighting”), Walter Bishop (John Noble, “Fringe”), Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Twisty (John Carroll Lynch, “American Horror Story: Freak Show”), Chanel Oberlyn (Emma Roberts, “Scream Queens”), David Banner/Hulk (Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno, “The Incredible Hulk”), Zoidberg (Billy West, “Futurama”), Supergirl (Melissa Benoist, “Supergirl”), and Jack Bristow (Victor Garber, “Alias”).

11. Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun, “The Walking Dead”)

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Glenn wasn’t supposed to be a survivor in the zombie apocalypse.  He was a pizza delivery boy.  A geek.  A dateless wonder who never saw the inside of a gym.  Glenn represents the underdog.  But, better than that, he represents the underdog made good.  Glenn finds his true self and unearths the strength necessary to bring it to the surface and then to live it.  He becomes strong – a fighter.  He gets the girl.  He somehow fulfills his dreams in the middle of the worst world imaginable.  Glenn represents hope.  Glenn represents perseverance.  And Glenn reminds us all that we’re capable of achieving our own dreams and being the best version of ourselves, as long as we stop making excuses and don’t allow ourselves to settle for less.  (Other “Walking Dead” favorites: Rick Grimes, Dale Horvath, Shane Walsh, Maggie Greene, Carol Peletier)

10. Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”)

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Giles was the librarian at Sunnydale High School, where Buffy Summers got her education.  But he was so much more.  Having been revealed as Buffy’s watcher, Giles took on a protective role over not only Buffy, but her entire gang of “Scoobies” (friends).  Every action he took was in Buffy’s (and humanity’s) best interest and he had a pure, fatherly love for her that served as the backbone for the show.  Entirely selfless, Giles stuck beside Buffy through thick and thin, always knowing what was best for her and never failing to act on it, even when it was difficult.  There are many adults out there that could learn something from Giles, as he served as a different type of role model – especially for a genre show.  Also, dude could sing.  (Other “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” favorites: Buffy Summers, Xander Harris)

9. Cosima Niehaus (Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”)

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Tatiana Maslany is doing the best acting work on the planet – movie, television, or otherwise – on BBC America’s “Orphan Black”.  She recently finally took home an Emmy for her work, in which she plays a group of clones, each with their own distinct look and personality.  Of those, my favorite is science geek Cosima.  Cosima stands out due to the powerful trifecta of her unique look, her superior intellect, and her unrivaled heart.  Cosima doesn’t know how to do anything halfway and she’s often brought to her knees by following her heart over her brain.  But her capacity for love and for giving and her complete lack of hesitancy in doing both is what makes her so endearing and what ultimately lands her on this list.  (Other “Orphan Black” favorites: Helena, Alison Hendrix, Donnie Hendrix)

8. Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry, “Friends”)

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Could I be any more like Chandler?!  Though I identify with all of them to some degree, of the characters on this list, Chandler is the one most like me in real life.  Always ready to throw out a one-liner, whether anyone in earshot is going to get it, or not, Chandler mostly spends his time watching TV, eating unhealthy food, and getting rejected by women.  Much like Glenn, he ultimately finds a way to put it all together into a respectable life, but he stays true to himself, the whole time.  Humor is his defense mechanism, and perfect timing and delivery are his weapons.  But, he cares about everyone in his life and the important things matter to him.  Chandler is me, but more successful!  (Other “Friends” favorites: Phoebe Buffay)

7. George Costanza (Jason Alexander, “Seinfeld”)

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George is kind of the complement to Chandler.  George is who we all are, a little bit, on the inside.  He’s the part of us that only sees things from our own selfish perspective.  Entirely driven by his own success and satisfaction, George says and does the things we can’t, but so often wish that we could.  He’s a pretty reprehensible person on the surface, but he’s so relatable that it’s impossible for anyone who’s fully self-aware to dislike him.  We all have that side to us and it’s almost cathartic to see it realized on-screen, so we can live vicariously through George and laugh along as he lives out our inner a-hole in the funniest ways imaginable.  (Other “Seinfeld” favorites: Jerry Seinfeld, Cosmo Kramer, Elaine Benes)

6. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter, “Jessica Jones”)

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Does a Netflix series count as television?  It’s a gray area, but I’m counting it, because “Jessica Jones” is high-end, pure quality programming at its finest.  This particular entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is every bit as good as the very best of the mythology’s films and flat-out better than those that don’t sit at the top of the heap.  A huge reason for that is Krysten Ritter’s eponymous character, a smack-talking, hard-living detective that doesn’t take crap from anybody.  With a sharp mind and an equally-sharp tongue, Jessica talks her way through most situations and punches her way out of the few where talking doesn’t work.  She’s been through some unimaginable challenges in her life, but she emerges from each one unbroken and more powerful than she was previously, and ready for the next.  Jessica Jones will beat your @ss and she’ll make you laugh while she does it.  (Other “Jessica Jones” favorites: Patsy Walker, Kilgrave)

5. John Locke (Terry O’Quinn, “Lost”)

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Locke was always right.  That’s what it all boiled down to.  For all of the resentment and mistrust and anger that so many other characters had towards him, they all should have shut up and just listened to everything he had to say.  Living a life on the island that was taken away from him before the crash, Locke had no reason to search for rescue or to help the others.  For him, the island was a gift.  But he tried to help the others (lowercase.  Not the Others.), anyway.  Despite it all, he never grew spiteful or bitter towards his fellow castaways and simply did his best, at all times.  Had others paid closer attention to him, who knows how the story of “Lost” would have gone?  (Other “Lost” favorites: Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, Kate Austen)

4. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny, “The X-Files”)

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There has never been a more determined character in all of television than Fox Mulder.  Never stopping, never giving up, Mulder persists in the hunt for the truth regarding the conspiracy between the United States government and alien beings from another planet.  But really, Mulder was motivated by love – love for his sister.  He wanted the truth, yes, but only because he cared about finding – and hopefully rescuing – his sister who had seemingly been abducted from their bedroom when they were children.  Love is powerful and Fox’s love was powerful enough for him to be a never-ending thorn in the sides of those he deemed responsible for his sister’s disappearance.  The whole time, he somehow managed to keep his wit and sense of humor, conducting his investigations with not only an admirable perseverance but also an endearing charm.  (Other “The X-Files” favorites: Dana Scully, Walter Skinner, John Doggett)

3. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, “24”)

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Quite possibly the toughest non-superpowered television character in history, Jack Bauer’s adventures changed television forever, starting with his debut in 2001.  The wild success of the show led to the shift to serialized storytelling on television, which persists so strongly to this day that even “South Park” has jumped on the bandwagon in recent seasons.  But it wouldn’t have worked without Jack.  Jack will do whatever is necessary for the preservation of what’s right.  He knows that his judgement is more informed and backed by more experience than those around him and he cares nothing for protocol.  All that matters to Jack is getting the job done.  And he always gets it done.  (Other “24” favorites: David Palmer, Tony Almeida, Michelle Dessler, Chloe O’Brian, Charles Logan)

2. Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta, “The Simpsons”)

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I said earlier that I identify with each of the characters on this list to some degree.  Well, that’s not exactly accurate, after all.  I in no way identify with Homer Simpson.  But he has entertained me and made me laugh more often than probably any other character in all of entertainment.  He’s the epitome of the lovable loser, who isn’t actually a loser.  Homer has a wife, three kids, and have you seen the list of jobs he’s had throughout his life?  Yet, through sheer, charming ineptitude, he keeps only the most tenuous of grasps on his whole life.  It always feels like it could all slip away at any moment.  But we know it won’t.  That’s not this show.  So we continue to watch and laugh as Homer satirically mocks the absurdities that permeate our real world and we each shake our head as we say to ourselves, “I’m glad he’s not making fun of me!”  (Other “The Simpsons” favorites: Ralph Wiggum, John Frink, Maggie Simpson)

1. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones”)

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Okay, yes, you probably know by now that Emilia Clarke is my celebrity crush.  And, if I wanted that to be the extent of my justification for Daenerys sitting atop this list (as she will sit atop the Iron Throne), then that’s all I would need.  But I became an Emilia Clarke fan because of Daenerys, not the other way around.  Daenerys is probably single-handedly responsible for three or four of my favorite TV moments in history.  She takes what Glenn accomplished in “The Walking Dead” and exceeds it by leaps and bounds.  Daenerys doesn’t simply live up to her potential.  That’s not good enough for her.  She far surpasses it, becoming the ultimate overachiever.  Everyone in her life tried to suppress her.  They wanted to hold her down and make her subservient.  But she respects herself too much.  And she knows she has more to offer the world than that.  So, she destroyed those people and surrounded herself with new people.  And good luck if she comes across you and you happen to be another suppressor of some form.  Because she’ll destroy you, too, and liberate those you marginalized.  Daenerys fights for what’s right and she fights for herself and others.  She doesn’t do it because she wants to.  It isn’t fun for her.  She does it because she has the ability to and if she doesn’t, nobody else will.  She wants to be the leader that everyone deserves.  She wants to be benevolent and fair, but unforgiving against trespassers.  She’s also wise enough to know (and mature enough to admit) that she lacks leadership and political experience, so her cabinet continues to fill with others who can advise her and fill those gaps.  Daenerys is the leader we all wish we could have in real life.  She’s smart, she’s strong, she’s confident, and she doesn’t just talk; she does.  She’s the Mother of Dragons.  She’s the Breaker of Chains.  The Queen of Meereen.  The Unburnt.  The Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea.  She is Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen and she’s, hands-down, my favorite television character of all time.  (Other “Game of Thrones” favorites: Tyrion Lannister, Jorah Mormont, Oberyn Martell, Ned Stark, Arya Stark)

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Interlude – My Eleven Favorite TV Characters

Interlude – Top Five Favorite Comedies

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My Top Five Favorite Comedies

Okay, so the headline is slightly misleading.  Wait, come back!  Only “slightly”!  While I often enjoy comedies, I really only have three “favorite” comedies, and then a bunch of others that I enjoy on various levels.  But nobody is going to click on a Top Three list.  And I really wanted to do this column because 1) I can’t make it to any new movies, this weekend, but I wanted to post something, and 2) I think we all need a laugh, right now.

So, I’m presenting to you my three personal favorite comedies and two more that came to mind before all of the rest because of . . . you know . . . reasons.  For me, so many comedies that are widely considered all-time classics are just . . . okay.  So, my list is almost certainly to be unlike anyone else’s.  But I hope you check some of these out if you haven’t  (or if it’s been a while) and get some enjoyment out of them.  Away we go!

5. Wanderlust

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This 2012 comedy from director David Wain and starring Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston came and went without a whole lot of attention.  And that’s a shame.  The movie, itself, is consistently funny and Rudd and Aniston are surrounded by a stellar supporting cast but this one makes the list for primarily one single scene.  Paul Rudd demonstrates that he may be the greatest comedic actor in Hollywood (a talent which also assists him in stealing every scene he’s in during this year’s Captain America: Civil War) by single-handedly delivering what I consider to be the funniest performance I’ve ever witnessed in any movie.  Ever.  It’s not for kids.  It’s not even for many “adults”.  But Rudd takes a solid comedy and, by himself – in less than two minutes – elevates the entire film and makes it entirely unforgettable.

4. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

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I know, I know.  “The first one is always better!”  Well, that’s simply a myth.  Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls was better than its predecessor in virtually every single way including the most important one: it was funnier.  In fact, the one and only time in my entire life that I laughed until I cried while watching a movie was during this film.  And the rest of the nearly sold-out audience was right there with me.  Much like my number five movie on this list, that laughing fit came about due to one scene in particular (which wouldn’t have worked without Jim Carrey’s incredible performance) but the entire picture is an onslaught of wit, unpredictability, and maniacal exuberance from Carrey.  And, on occasion, I still greet people by exclaiming, “Bumblebee Tuna!  Bumblebee Tuna!”  The resulting combination of confusion and repulsion has allowed me to consistently weed out those not truly deserving of my friendship.  So, thanks, When Nature Calls!

3. Clue: The Movie

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Here’s where my true list of beloved comedies begins.  So many people mention The Rocky Horror Picture Show as though it’s the only reason Tim Curry should be so revered.  Feh!  “FEH!” I say!  Aside from his startlingly frightening portrayal as Pennywise in the TV adaptation of Stephen King’s classic It, there’s his astounding Wadsworth in Clue: The Movie.  Functioning as a locked-box mystery (and based on the enduring board game), Clue is a nonstop cavalcade of clever one-liners and brilliant satirical performances.  As unrelentingly hilarious as each of the cast members are in their roles (and literally every.  Single.  One of them.  Delivers.  It’s an actual seven-way tie for who gives the best performance.), the characters have no idea that they’re hilarious.  And whether you’re collecting recipes with Mrs. Peacock or learning math from Mrs. White, you’ll be laughing the whole time.  In a genius creative decision, the movie was filmed with three different endings, which were placed randomly at theaters, so that audiences wouldn’t know which one they were getting.  The movie frustratingly bombed, anyway (even in 1987, Americans Didn’t Want Movie “Originality”!).  Yet, it has gone on to become the classic it deserves to be heralded as (there’s even a remake in the works).  Everyone needs to see this one at least once or twice or forty times in their life.

2. Dumb & Dumber

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Jim Carrey makes his second appearance on the list, this time teaming up with Jeff Daniels in The Farrelly Brothers’ all-time classic, Dumb & Dumber.  I’m not sure there’s ever been a more quotable movie than this one, nor one that made it harder for me to choose my favorite part (leaning towards the snowball).  The writing from the Farrellys and Bennett Yellin is ironically quick-witted and the consistency and quality of the performances from Carrey and Daniels are the stuff of legend.  I’ve never seen such an intelligent movie so commonly be referred to as “stupid”, but make no mistake – though Harry and Lloyd possess less-than-average intelligence, the film, itself, does not.  There’s one clever line after another.  One unpredictable quote follows the next.  And two completely committed performances finished the package off and helped make Dumb & Dumber a comedy that set the bar for any other comedy that came afterwards.

1. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

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I love every single thing about this movie.  I love the entire cast: Jason Segal, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, and – in smaller roles – Bill Hader, Liz Cackowski, Jack McBrayer, Jonah Hill, and Paul Rudd (who should be serving multiple prison sentences for once again stealing scenes).  I love the Hawaiian setting (while watching the film, I thought that I’d love to stay at a resort like the one they were staying at.  I went one better by booking a trip to Hawaii and staying AT the resort they were staying at.).  I love the story.  I love the character arcs.  And I love the laughs.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall has plenty of heart, but never forgets that its goal is to score laughs.  It ends up being a cinematic total package that forces guffaws and feelings, while also scoring points for perhaps even causing some viewers to assess their approach to their own lives.  This movie played a large role in providing me with the greatest week of my life, so maybe I’m biased, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a top-flight comedy that goes above and beyond to be so much more.  It’s easily my favorite comedy of all-time.

And that’s it until next week!  If you like what I’m doing, do me a favor!  Help the March stay alive into 2017!  Spread the word, share the page and your favorite posts, and follow us on Facebook!  Help us get to 300+ likes by January 1!

Interlude – Top Five Favorite Comedies

Interlude: 10 Fourth Quarter 2016 Films to Be Excited About!

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2016 is flying by and here we are, with just three months left.  Sometimes, after the huge summer films have come and gone, it feels like there’s nothing left to look forward to.  But never fear!  Here’s a list of the ten films, both big and small, hitting theaters from October through December – in order of release – that I feel have the most potential!

(Okay, let me houseclean, first.  This is not an exhaustive list!  Other films look like they could be good!  Other films will make a ton of money!  And other films will pop up with little to no fanfare as always happens during Oscar season!  These are the ten movies that we know about that seem most likely to me to be good, successful, and crowd pleasing.  It’s not a guarantee!  I thought Suicide Squad was going to be all three of those things, too, but it was only 1.5 of them!  Don’t come back complaining to me if you see one and don’t enjoy it!  Especially after everyone ignored me (thereby giving my theory more credence) and refused to see Kubo and the Two Strings.  Okay, are we ready, now?  Let’s look into the future!  All the way into the fourth quarter of 2016!)

1. The Girl on the Train

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October 7 – Based on the popular novel of the same name, The Girl on the Train tells the story of a girl (Emily Blunt) who witnesses a crime from the window of a train.  From there, she becomes more involved in the issue than she expected and the mystery begins to unravel around her.  I haven’t read the book, but Emily Blunt has a habit of picking excellent projects and she’s one of my favorite stars in Hollywood.  This seems like an excellent, sophisticated adult thriller to kick off the fall.  (Official Trailer)

2. Inferno

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October 28 – This is the third film adaptation from Dan Brown’s series of books featuring fan-favorite character Robert Langdon.  The first two, you may know, were The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.  Ron Howard is back in the director’s chair and Tom Hanks returns as Langdon, this time joined by the fantastic Felicity Jones (we’ll see her again, later) as Sienna Brooks.  Casting doesn’t get better than Hanks and Jones (I maintain that she deserved an Oscar for The Theory of Everything).  And, unlike the initial film on this list, I have read this book and the story is thrilling, intelligent, shocking, and frighteningly relevant.  I’m going out of town on the weekend this comes out but I’m going to find a way to see it without waiting until the next weekend, believe me.  (Official Trailer)

3. Doctor Strange

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November 4 – This is one reason I don’t want to wait until the following weekend to see Inferno.  I’ll be otherwise occupied with this one!  Marvel Studios is back with a brand new character (not counting the name drop in Captain America: Winter Soldier) for movie audiences and they’ve brought along the longtime fan pick of Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous Doctor Strange!  This is going to be completely different from anything else we’ve seen in a comic book movie and, while I’m hoping the otherworldly dimensions aren’t limited to the Inception-esque folding cityscapes we’ve seen in the marketing, it’s hard not to be excited to see what Marvel has in store for us, this time around.  Though some of Marvel Studios’s films have been lesser than others, they’ve never truly let us down and I don’t expect they will here, either.  (Official Trailer)

4. Hacksaw Ridge

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November 4 – Some people won’t be happy about this one.  Mel Gibson continues his attempted comeback after his very public meltdown and, doggone it, Hacksaw Ridge (which Gibson directed) looks really fantastic.  I, like most everyone, was disappointed in Gibson’s words and behavior, years ago.  I personally believe in second chances and, after seeing the trailer for Ridge, I’m even more inclined to give him one.  Andrew Garfield plays pacifist World War II medic Desmond T. Doss who refuses to pick up a gun in Okinawa and uses his skills to save lives, not take them.  Upon seeing the trailer for this, it was the first time I’ve ever been actively excited about a war movie.  And then I saw that Gibson was directing it, which admittedly was a bit of a punch to the gut.  But, sorry, folks.  I’m seeing it.  My $7.50 will be split among hundreds of other deserving people, anyway.  (Official Trailer)

5. Arrival

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November 11 – Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life”, Amy Adams stars (alongside Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker) as a linguist hired by the military to work as a translator between America and a recently arrived alien species in an effort to ascertain their true intentions.  This looks like a massively different angle on the alien invasion tale and Adams always brings the goods.  I could be misreading the trailer, but I get the feeling we’re in for something mature, thoughtful, and poignant, three days after Election Day.  (Official Trailer)

6. The Edge of Seventeen

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November 18 – Hailee Steinfeld has been doing pretty well for herself on the pop music scene, as of late, but I’m glad she’s still pursuing her acting career, as well.  After initially making a huge splash in the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit at the age of thirteen (she got an Academy Award nomination out of it), Steinfeld is now dealing with the growing pains of high school in The Edge of Seventeen and luckily (or maybe not?), she has Woody Harrelson as teacher Mr. Bruner to help guide her along.  Seventeen is a coming of age tale by a fresh voice on the scene in the form of writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig.  The trailer is full of more wit, humor, charm, and heart than many entire movies and the film looks likely to be a huge winner when it hits theaters near Thanksgiving.  (Official Trailer)

7. Moana

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November 23 – It’s becoming pretty clear that November is going to at least be a big month, if not a great one.  But I’m still betting on it being great, and Disney’s Moana is a big reason why.  Disney’s animation department is experiencing a creative renaissance under John Lasseter and there’s no reason to expect the streak to end, now.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson lays down the People’s Voiceover as demi-god Maui, who joins the titular Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) on her journey to reach a legendary island.  All the sailing reminds me of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and if the film is as enjoyable as that game was (and I feel confident that it will be), then Disney will once again walk away with much of our holiday money.  (Official Trailer)

8. La La Land

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December 16 – Come on.  Who can resist the pair of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling?  Oh, some of you think you can?  Well, La La Land is also written and directed by Damian Chazelle – the man who brought us Whiplash.  That’s all I need.  And, like Whiplash, this one centers around music, but as a full-on musical, this time.  The trailer, itself, is simultaneously fun, whimsical, light, emotional, and chock full of talent.  I really don’t know how this one can go wrong, but I’ll be there on opening weekend to see for sure!  (Official Trailer)

9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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December 16 – Duh.  While we wait for Episode VIII to continue Rey’s story in 2017, we get Rogue One to hold us over.  Starring the very busy Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Rogue One tells the story of the Rebellion’s attempt to steal the Empire’s plans for the Death Star during the timeframe of the original beloved trilogy.  Directed by Gareth Edwards, Disney seems to have a firm grasp on what audiences want from Star Wars, so I expect to be blown away, yet again – especially with Jones taking the lead.  I look forward to seeing what new insights we gain into the larger mythology and how modern special effects allow for new ideas to be incorporated into this era of the universe.  (Official Trailer)

10. Passengers

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December 21 – There are no two hotter stars in Hollywood at the moment than Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence.  Put them in a movie, mix in a unique premise of “love in space”, add in a healthy dose of action and suspense, and you have a giant hit in the making.  After being put into cryosleep along with thousands of others for a distant journey to colonize a new planet, Pratt and Lawrence’s Jim and Aurora are accidentally awakened 90 years before everyone else on the ship.  And then . . . well, we’ll see.  But it looks like a blast with two stars who can virtually do no wrong under director Morten Tyldum, who brought us one of the more important films in recent memory, The Imitation Game.  This one looks like a gift to any who celebrate the holiday season, and those who don’t, as well.  (Official Trailer)

And there are my picks for the 10 most promising films for the final three months of 2016!  We’ll see how it plays out and how other films like The Birth of a Nation and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fare, as well at what surprising Oscar contenders pop up.  I hope you’ll join me in checking them out!

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Interlude: 10 Fourth Quarter 2016 Films to Be Excited About!

Interlude – A Suicide Squad Revisit

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Suicide Squad is now up to a $635 million worldwide haul on a reported $175 million budget.  Without question, that’s a financial success (unless we possibly take into account marketing costs).  But as I saw the movie for a second time over the weekend, more and more issues jumped out at me.  This column is not meant to bash the film (I’m also going to discuss the aspects of the film that I still enjoyed).  Nor is it designed as an attempt to tell anyone that they shouldn’t like or enjoy the film in spite of its problems.  It’s just so obvious to me that, while $635 million (and counting) is a great number, this movie could have made so much more if the filmmakers and studio had had a little more faith in themselves and their characters.  There’s a way to satisfy most everyone rather than just the less-discerning audiences, and when that happens, al involved reap both artistic and financial reward.

(Fair warning . . ..  Unlike all of my other posts, I’ve diving headfirst into this one with full and complete spoilers.  I really want to touch on the good, the bad, and the ugly in specific detail.  Forge ahead if you’re fine with that.  If you aren’t, no problem.  Maybe you can read one or ninety of my other posts, since – you know – you’re already here and all!)

I would first like to state that the reason I saw the movie again is because my parents came to visit for the weekend.  My mom specifically said that she wanted to see Suicide Squad just to see Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.  I said in my original Suicide Squad post that Harley is the reason this film got made and this sort of thing just further proves my point.  My initial take on Robbie’s performance was spot on.  She nails it.  For example, when she’s strapped in and being wheeled down the corridor, she gives a glorious, “WHEEEEE!” that perfectly encapsulates Harley.  At every opportunity, she throws those subtleties in and she effortlessly personifies the complexities of the character.

I maintain, however, that Warner Brothers should have relied on comics writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti to assist with the writing for Harley.  They’re the only ones who manage to truly capture her voice through dialogue.  As I said earlier this year, they’re responsible for her current explosion in popularity and they should be acknowledged as such.  Sadly, in the film, she has very little of interest to actually say.  The lines that are supposed to be funny . . . aren’t.  The lines that are supposed to be crazy . . . aren’t.  They’re lines that anybody and everybody on the street say when they think they’re being quick and witty.  Honestly, how many times have you heard someone make a joke about talking to the voices in their head?  That sort of thing is the best writer/director David Ayer has for this character who has taken pop culture by the throat and she deserves better.  She deserves Conner and Palmiotti.  And so do we.  Their Harley is funny, endearing, and fresh.  Still, Robbie rises above the writing deficiencies (of which I’ll speak more about in a bit) and remains the primary reason to see the film.

Will Smith is truly fantastic as Deadshot, just as I remembered.  In fact, he was even a little better than I recalled.  Somehow, either he got all of the witty lines that Harley should have had or Smith adlibbed to inject a spark into the character and make him feel a little more real.  I’m betting on the latter.  There is actual time and effort put into the Deadshot character so that we get to see and understand what his motivations are.  Throughout the jokes and snappy comebacks, Smith maintains a morose demeanor as he longs for nothing other than to be with his daughter.  Or does he?  More on that, later, too.

The second time around, Jared Leto wasn’t as enjoyable for me.  I didn’t hate him.  But I didn’t love him.  I began to notice that his Joker persona felt as it if was just that: a persona.  His performance choices subtly communicate that it’s all an act to get into people’s minds and that he doesn’t really believe it.  It’s all too forced.  The laugh isn’t the sincere, maniacal laugh of a lunatic.  It’s a slow, calculated cackle designed to disturb those around him.  There’s no energy.  No urgency.  He’s slow.  Methodical.  Calculated.  He isn’t manic.  He isn’t over the top.  He’s just another gangster, but with bleached skin.  Some of this was caused by the writing and some of it was due to the performance.

But, as I mentioned in my original post, the writing is where this film truly suffers.  The two biggest calamities are the Harley/Joker relationship and the Enchantress.

The Harley/Joker relationship in the film is a complete mess and results in the internal logic within Suicide Squad being almost completely eradicated.  Let’s look at the beginning of the film, during their escape from Batman.  For some reason, Joker drives their car into the water.  Harley screams, “I can’t swim!” and the next thing we know, Harley is lying unconscious underwater while hanging through the windshield and Joker is gone.  He has unquestionably either left her to drown or -best case scenario – to be caught by Batman.

However, for the rest of the film, we’re to believe that he wants to rescue her from Arkham Asylum.  And why?  Why did he not care enough to help her when he crashed the car, yet suddenly cares enough to repeatedly risk being caught in order to break her out of a maximum security prison?  And why isn’t Harley upset that he left her behind to begin with?

“He thought he had a better chance with his men than one-on-one against Batman!  And he knew Batman wouldn’t let her drown!”  Okay, let’s assume that’s the case.  The biggest problem arises during Joker’s rooftop helicopter rescue of Harley.  After Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) orders the copter to be blown away, missiles connect and Joker pushes Harley out of the helicopter as it explodes.

Under absolutely no scenario does this crucial plot point make any sense.

We know for a fact that scenes featuring Harley and Joker were cut to make their relationship appear less abusive.  As a result, additional editing was necessary on what was left in order for the final narrative to achieve that goal.  As the scene plays in the final film, the helicopter begins to explode and Joker pushes Harley out onto a rooftop to save her life.  For now, let’s continue to tell ourselves that he didn’t leave Harley to die earlier in the film (even though he did).

So, why didn’t he jump with her?

Because he somehow knew he would survive the crash?  How?  He’s just a guy!  And even if he had a plan to survive, why not extend that plan to Harley so they could survive it together?  He clearly thought going down with the copter meant death or he wouldn’t have pushed Harley out under this he-truly-loves-her scenario.  So, it makes no sense that he wouldn’t jump, too, and escape with her.  So, here we again have Joker abandoning Harley and restarting the cycle of attempted rescues.

Now, let’s go with the original intent of the film to portray their relationship as abusive, as it always was in the comics and animated series.  First off, why rescue her to begin with?  Okay, fine, we’ll say he wants her around so he can feel like a big man by continuously grinding her under his boot.  So, he rescues her.  Under the abusive relationship scenario, the prevailing theory is that he pushes her out of the helicopter to kill her.  Why, when it’s just been hit by missiles?  She’s going to die, anyway.  And why does he still not try to escape the copter, himself?

Okay, let’s say the changes in editing mean that he originally wouldn’t have known that the copter was about to be shot down and he would have pushed her out of the copter before it was hit, not knowing that it was about to become a death trap of its own.  Why go through the trouble of rescuing her just to kill her?  Because he wanted the pleasure of doing the honors over Amanda Waller?  Then why hadn’t he killed her already?  How many chances had he had?  This scene was put there for the sake of drama without any real thought behind it.  As a result, irreconcilable contradictions are formed that leave the viewer unsure of who the Joker is and what kind of relationship he and Harley have.  And that would have happened regardless of edits.  They aimed to redefine the relationship as loving instead of abusive.  Instead, it’s neither.

I also maintain that Joker had no business being in this movie at all and a Batman standalone film with Harley and Joker as the villains was pretty much necessary between Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

And then there’s Enchantress.  This is as much of a mess as the Harley/Joker relationship, if not more.  First off, how is it that the Enchantress and June Moone, the one person in thousands of years who just happens to find and unlock Enchantress, look exactly alike before they’re even joined?  Nowhere is it established that Enchantress takes on different forms, so don’t even try that one.

After that, Enchantress manages to escape the clutches of Amanda Waller in a way that she could have pulled off at any given time in their past.  I guess she just didn’t feel like it?  And then, she’s all butthurt about people’s attachments to their iPhones, so she plans to build a machine to destroy the world.  How does this machine work?  What is its function?  What does it require in order to achieve its purpose (it appears that it runs on cars, as that’s what keeps getting sucked into it, maybe?)  And if she can do all the things we had already seen her do by that point, why did she need a machine?  Nobody knows, including David Ayer, apparently.  What we do know is that the machine appears completely constructed within a few seconds as no further progress is made throughout the remainder of the film.  Enchantress just stands in front of it, waving her arms and wiggling her hips while being all, “It’s almost done, okay?!  Gosh!” to her brother, who is all, “Seriously, what’s going on over there?”

Once she gives the Suicide Squad as much time as they need to get there and put the kibosh on her plans, we see that these two super-powerful beings are fortunately completely vulnerable to things like small bombs, fire, punches, and knives.  What a lucky break!  So, the Squad destroys the machine.  Enchantress is still there but she just gives up because I guess she no longer has powers for some reason?  That’s lucky, too!  That’s a completely unexpected side effect because, even though they have once again taken her heart as they had earlier in the film, she still had powers then.  But now?  Nope!  And just in time for the film to end!

Let’s look at some other questions.

  • Amanda Waller says the Squad is constructed to take down “the next Superman” if it’s necessary.  Who, exactly, on the team does she believe can take down Superman?  At that stage, she was under the belief that the Enchantress would be part of the crew.  So, maybe that’s who she had in mind because Enchantress’s magical abilities put her on a similar level?  But Enchantress turns against them and so Waller sends the rest of the Squad against this supposedly Superman-level being.  Again, so lucky that she has a glass jaw!  I wonder how that would have faired against that next potential Superman?
  • All Deadshot talks about is reuniting with his daughter.  It’s made clear throughout the entire film that she is his motivation for everything.  So, when Enchantress gives them the chance to live out their fantasies within their minds, is his being reunited with his daughter?  Nope.  Suddenly, his deepest desire is to kill Batman and his daughter takes a backseat.
  • Speaking of Deadshot and his daughter, during the climax, as he prepares to deal the killing blow to Enchantress’s machine (because among the aforementioned affronts, this world-ending machine constructed by this all-powerful sorceress is also vulnerable to bullets), he hesitates as he recalls his daughter telling him that they can only be together if he doesn’t shoot.  Wha?  How does that memory apply to this particular moment?  He’s trying to save the world, but the film is telling us that, by pulling the trigger, he risks never seeing his daughter again (which we now know is the second-most important thing in the world to him)?  How so, exactly?
  • Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) is the good guy.  He’s a man of honor who is assigned to the Suicide Squad by Waller to ensure they remain reigned in, under control, and don’t do bad instead of good.  And he takes it seriously.  None of them will kill, maim, or do bad things in any way!  So, when he sees Waller, herself, coldly shoot and murder a room full of good people just because they knew more than they were supposed to know, does he respond with swift, heroic justice, having finally been exposed to the true Waller?  No, he makes a flat comment about her being mean and then walks out of the room at her side.  Good man, Rick Flag.  The best, even.
  • When Harley is escaping on the rope dangling from Joker’s copter, Waller orders Deadshot to kill her.  He lines up, takes the shot, and Harley pretends he connects, with everyone on the rooftop alongside Deadshot assuming that she has just been killed.  By the way, they all assume this even though there’s no blood and Harley continues to hold on to the rope.  Expert killers, this bunch.  This was another predictable attempt at an audience misdirect that we’ve seen a million times and completely falls flat.
  • Diablo is a rough man.  He was born and bred by his hardnosed life, evidenced by the multitude of symbolic tattoos spread all over his face and body.  So, naturally, he finds a domestic goddess to marry.  She cooks him and their two clean-cut kids dinner in their suburban house where they’ll later probably settle in to watch some I Love Lucy reruns on Nick-at-Nite.  This was before he had decided to turn his life around, by the way.  But I guess nobody says that the mean streets don’t allow pastel-colored Polo shirts.
  • Also, Diablo inadvertently kills said wife and kids as a result of not controlling his fire powers.  As he cradles his dead wife in his arms, she appears to have just gotten ready to go grocery shopping, as there are no burns, cuts, bruises, or visible wounds of any kinds.  It’s rather hard to be swept up in the horror of the incident when the visuals run in direct contradiction to the events.

Okay, that’s enough.  I think I’ve made my point.  And I’m not even going to get into the more subjective components like the uninspired but serviceable action scenes or the mixed bag of character designs (though Killer Croc is truly awful-looking with his oversized head and average-sized frame.  He’s one of the smaller male characters in the film.  CGI was the way to go, there.).  And I won’t get into the complete lack of true character development for characters like Katana and Captain Boomerang (a line or two doesn’t count.  Time is necessary.  No Joker thanks to a Batman solo film would have helped.)  These specifics mentioned above aren’t along the lines of a character’s pencil moving from behind their ear to their right hand between shots.  Those types of continuity errors are going to happen in practically every film.

No, these are huge problems that get in the way of story and/or character development, emotional impact, and consistency.  If WB and DC want to succeed at or near the level of their primary competition, they have to realize that their films need to appeal to the masses, who aren’t going to let them slide just because they really like Harley.  Appealing to comic fans alone isn’t enough.  A best-selling comic book typically sells around 100,000 copies.  At $10.00 a ticket, that translates to $1,000,000 in ticket sales.  Practically nothing.

Warner Brothers got away with it, this time, thanks to the Harley appeal.  But if some attention to these types of issues isn’t given, general audiences will wane.  Decide on a vision and stick to it.  Believe in yourselves and your characters.  And listen to the professional criticisms (not the fan criticisms.  Nothing would ever get done, that way.).  I love these characters and I want these movies to do well.  Suicide Squad is in no way the worst film of the year.  It’s not even the worst comic book film of the year (I’m looking at YOU, X-Men: Apocalypse!).  And Wonder Woman‘s trailer looks better and has me feeling more confident than any Suicide Squad trailer ever did.  But the bar has been set high by their competition and, at some point, Warner Brothers needs to invest in a longer pole.

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Interlude – A Suicide Squad Revisit

Interlude – This Weekend Proved That Americans Don’t Want Movie “Originality”

hero_Kubo-Two-Strings-2016-900
Kubo and the Two Strings is everything movie audiences claim to want.

The weekend of August 19-21, 2016, was a very telling one at the domestic box office.  Going into its third weekend, Suicide Squad had performed very strongly over the course of its first week, before plunging over 67% when comparing its first and second weekend grosses.  It was always going to come busting out of the gate due to the anticipation of seeing Harley Quinn and the Joker, but the film seems to have little to offer beyond that, resulting in a deluge of negativity from both professional critics and general audiences.  After Suicide Squad apologists (for the record, I liked the movie for certain elements and performances, but it’s undeniably a mess from a filmmaking perspective) reveled in their brags that the film broke the August opening weekend record set by Guardians of the Galaxy (which, again, it was destined to do, thanks to Harley.  GotG featured no highly-anticipated debuting characters of which to speak.  Not to most people, at least.), they have gone awfully quiet having since come to the realization that Guardians will end up with a much higher overall gross, despite the slower – but still impressive – start.

So, opening against Suicide Squad on the weekend of August 19 (where Squad grossed $20.9 million) were three new wide releases.  One of them was the remake of the 1959 William Wyler/Charlton Heston epic Ben-Hur.  The second was the war comedy War Dogs starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller and directed by Todd Phillips, best known for The Hangover and its sequels.  And the final new release of the weekend was the fourth film from stop-motion animation studio Laika, Kubo and the Two Strings.

Ben-Hur was pretty much destined to fail.  With a $100 million budget (relatively modest for a hopeful blockbuster), Paramount proceeded to cast no one of any real appeal and to make a movie that very few had any interest in seeing.  The original version is revered and there’s nothing in the source material that justifies a modern update.  Critics savaged it and it really had no chance of succeeding.  With an $11.2 million opening weekend, Ben-Hur has virtually no path to making a profit unless it does huge overseas numbers, which seems unlikely.

War Dogs performed a little better, relatively speaking, due to the appeal of its leads.  With a reported $50 million budget, the film earned $21 million and change worldwide ($14 million, domestically) over the weekend of discussion.  Still, it will need to reach a total of at least $100 million in order to break even, if not a little more, meaning it will need to gross at least five times its opening weekend.  This is practically unheard of.  While critics liked it more than they did Ben-Hur, reviews were mixed, overall, and war comedies are a tough sell, anyway.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also underperformed, earlier this year.  In general, people don’t want to laugh at war.

The third release, Kubo and the Two Strings, was released by Laika Studios, whose previous efforts consisted of Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls.  Outside of all four of the films being produced through stop-motion animation, Kubo shares little in common with the other three, which were bordering on mild horror-comedies.  Kubo is a family tale about love, loss, and storytelling, with a couple of somewhat scary – and super-awesome – villains.  It’s a completely original story set in ancient Japan that features drama, action, humor, and the most beautiful visuals of any film from 2016.  In general, critics have heaped untold praise upon it (it sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, but make sure you understand what that really means) and virtually anyone who sees it proclaims it to be an instant classic.  There is plenty of subtext, brains, and heart, and one look at any Kubo-themed message boards will also reveal it to be tremendously thought-provoking.  In short, in my mind and the minds of many others that I’ve seen, Kubo and the Two Strings is the best film of the year, so far, and it frankly isn’t even close.

It made $12.6 million dollars over the course of the domestic opening weekend on a $60 million budget, coming in fourth place.

So, the relative soft openings of Ben-Hur and War Dogs are understandable, as discussed.  But Kubo is everything that audiences claim to want so, so badly.  “Hollywood is out of original ideas!”  “Movies are always sequels or remakes!  Give us something different!”  “I’m tired of the brainless blockbuster!”  “It’s all comic book movies, all the time!”  In Kubo, we have an original, non-sequel, non-remake, non-comic-book movie with brains that is different from anything that has ever hit the big screen.  So where were all of the big talkers?  Why didn’t they show up?

EDGE OF TOMORROW
Edge of Tomorrow blew critics and audiences (who saw it) away, but only made $100 million domestically, relying on foreign audiences to salvage its $178 million budget.

 

1.  I didn’t know about it!
Okay.  I can buy that.  Laika doesn’t have the bank account that so many other studios do.  The film cost $60 million, as it is, so they put it out there as much as they could, which isn’t going to be as much as a film from Disney or Universal.  No Olympics ads.  No Times Square billboards (that I know of.  I’d be shocked but, please, correct me if I’m wrong.).  But I have one response to that.  If you aren’t paying close enough attention to what movies are coming out without needing advertisements shoved into your face, that’s fine.  But that also means that you aren’t knowledgeable or interested enough to be making judgements about what actually is being released.  You aren’t justified in complaining about any movies being released or not being released if you aren’t going to bother keeping up with said releases and then supporting the films that you claim you’re oh-so-desperate to see.  So, move on, please.

2.  It’s a cartoon!
Boo-hoo.  This is also suggestive of ignorance on the topic of film.  Firstly, more work goes into stop-motion animation than practically any other type of film – animated or not – that is being produced at this time.  You think you work hard at your job?  Try making a feature-length stop-motion animated film.  The number of people that it takes and the multitude of man-hours necessary to make even a bad one is staggering.  To make one like Kubo?  I can’t even begin to imagine.  It’s an art form and it’s an art form that this studio, specifically, is pushing forward into areas that were previously unimaginable.

Also, being animated doesn’t preclude it from also being sophisticated.  In fact, I’d say Kubo is far more adult and mature than pretty much anything that can be seen on the so-called Learning Channel, these days.  There is a vast difference between a family film and a kids’ film.  Kids’ films are made specifically for children, with no consideration for any adults who may also be there, whether they’re with kids or not.  Family films are films that are suitable for children but made to be enjoyed by anyone of any age.  These films are oftentimes of very high quality because much effort is put into appealing to a broad spectrum of people and the easy methods of luring viewers in (violence, sex, profanity) are virtually out the window, necessitating that character and story carry the load.

So using the reductive label of “cartoon” in an effort to dismiss Kubo or other films of its ilk is ignorant, unfair, and it simply doesn’t fly.

3.  I didn’t have time!
Okay, that can happen.  If that was the case, then no problem.  I also have to assume that you will see it at a later date (better hurry!) and that will bear itself out in its final gross.  Because, worldwide, this film needs to make about $150 million to make a profit.  I do think it has a good chance of breaking out, internationally, but I’d rather not depend on that.  So, we’re cool, number three people.  So far.

4.  It looks weird!
Oh, it looks “weird”?  What that really means is, “It looks different,” which is exactly what you keep saying you want!  This is one of my biggest pet peeves that I hear from people regarding a reason why they don’t want to see a given film.  Try it!  Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, but try it!  Enough with saying that there’s no originality in the motion picture industry!  Original films are all over the place but when people see them advertised, they just talk about how “weird” or “stupid” it looks and then they avoid it!  Just off the top of my head, how many of the following movies (in no particular order) from within the last three years did you see in the theater?

Her, Room, Edge of Tomorrow, Nightcrawler, Unfriended, Pacific Rim, Ex Machina, Tomorrowland, The Gift, Sicario, Brooklyn, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Witch, Midnight Special, Café Society, A Hologram for the King, The Neon Demon

If you’ve seen more than three of them in the theater, my hat is off to you.  All of them are unique unto themselves, with fresh vision and execution.  Not all of them are particularly well-regarded (though most are).  And even I didn’t like every one of them (I hated The Neon Demon).  But they’re all original, different, and ambitious.  And each of them might “look weird” because of it.  You can’t have it both ways.

ex-machina
Ex Machina grossed $37 million on a $15 million budget.  Possibly just enough to make a small profit.

 

5.  I don’t have the money and they aren’t on torrent sites!
Well, you’re not doing anybody any good, even if you watch them, if you’re watching them through torrent sites.  This is simple; these types of films have to make money!  If you’re stealing them (which is what you’re doing if you’re watching for free, I don’t care how you justify it), you aren’t supporting them.  You’re even causing more harm than the people who don’t watch them, at all.  You know what I don’t have the money for?  A Jaguar.  You know what I don’t have?  A Jaguar.

6. Why do you even care, Stephen?  You’re not making any money off of these movies!
Is that the only reason to care?  No, I’m not making money from movies.  I’m giving my money to movies.  I do it willingly and happily, even to movies that I don’t like, such as the aforementioned The Neon Demon.  Why?  For the same reason that I care about how much money movies like Kubo make: I love movies and I respect the art form and everyone who partakes in it.

I care because I not only love movies, but I especially love GREAT movies.  Like Kubo.  And Room.  And Ex Machina.  And if audiences keep saying that they love and want those types of movies, but then don’t back it up with their bank accounts, we will get fewer of those types of movies!

Laika’s films barely turn a profit.  If Kubo actually loses money, and then Laika’s follow-up loses money as well, how much longer can the production house continue?  How many more films will get from them?  Two?  One?  None?  RKO pictures almost went out of business until they were saved in 1933 by a hugely profitable movie called King KongKing Kong was completely unique at the time and people responded.  As a result, RKO flourished and went on to give us(among others) Citizen Kane.  Without audiences supporting Kong, the entire industry would have been different.  If Kubo is this good, what else might Laika have up its sleeve?  Well, if it doesn’t survive, it won’t even have sleeves.

6.  I don’t care what the critics think.  The critics are always wrong.
Oh, good lord.  This is the cry of those who have no interest in maturing as a moviegoer.  Let’s break this statement down.  First of all, who are “the” critics?  Different critics have different takes on different films.  Are “the” critics wrong about Suicide Squad?  How does that work?  Sure, maybe 75% or so agree in general that it wasn’t particularly well-made.  But then about 25% say that it was.  So, which ones are wrong?  How can they all be wrong in any one person’s eyes?

Okay, then, let’s assume you mean that the overwhelming majority of critics are “always” or even “usually” wrong.  This little gem seems to pop up whenever someone is trying to convince themselves that a movie they like or want to like is better than it is.  So when the majority of critics dislike a movie the person want to like, the critics are “always” or “usually” wrong according to that person.  But then, when those same critics overwhelmingly love a movie that the same person wants to love, suddenly it’s, “Hooray!  It’s good!  I knew it would be!”

Funny how that works.

But people will use that anti-critic bias to justify not seeing something new or different.  Critics respond to new and different.  It’s not a guaranteed path to positive critical reception, but it’s a good start.  So, when critics see a film that feels new and fresh, they’re likely to praise the film for possessing those qualities.  Audiences then see that critics like a movie that appears otherwise challenging to them in some way (not enough action, too political, etc.) and they say that they won’t like it because (say it with me) “the critics are always wrong”.

Note that critics know what they’re talking about.  If a majority of critics claim that a specific movie has a particular problem, you can bank on it being true.  They were pretty spot on about their criticisms of Suicide Squad.  Now, overall, I enjoyed the movie, anyway, thanks mostly to Margot Robbie.  But that doesn’t mean the problems weren’t there.

So, the majority of critics, when speaking in consensus are almost always right, whether their particular criticisms of the film affect your level of enjoyment or not.  You can like a movie that isn’t particularly good.  And you can dislike one that is.  It’s really okay.

My point is this: If the critics seem to overwhelmingly love a specific film, it’s probably pretty good and you might want to think about checking it out.  And, while watching it, think about what’s playing out on-screen and look for the things the critics were praising.  You might recognize that it’s well-made but still not enjoy it.  That happens to me quite a bit.  But you also might discover something that you love that you wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

Bottom line:  Look, I guess you’re going to see what you’re going to see.  But if you’re going to proclaim that you’re tired of remakes and sequels (both of which typically also require originality in their own right, but that’s another column for another day), then it’s time to put up or shut up.  If you don’t want to see movies like Kubo or Ex Machina, then don’t.  But you also can’t pretend to have any sort of true interest in film or what movies studios are putting out.  I don’t have any interest in professional basketball.  And you’ll also notice that this isn’t a professional basketball site.  So, sure, try to sound smart and insightful by whining about how there’s “no originality in Hollywood”.  But in reality, you’ve just exposed your own ignorance and your outright refusal to help fix the supposed problem that you insist you’re so passionate about.

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Interlude – This Weekend Proved That Americans Don’t Want Movie “Originality”

Interlude – You’re Using Rotten Tomatoes Incorrectly

Suicide Squad Cast

This column has been brewing in my brain for a little while now, waiting for a reason to be written.  And here we are, a couple of days before Suicide Squad is being released and people everywhere are freaking out.  The reviews from professional critics are dropping and they aren’t looking too kind.  As of this writing, the Rotten Tomatoes score is sitting at a troublesome 35%.  That will continue to change as more reviews come in, but it’s not going to waver too much.  And everybody has an opinion about it.  And it seems that the people who haven’t seen the movie have even stronger opinions than those who have.

I’ve seen people completely dismissing the opinions of the critics – professionals who see way more movies and know way more about movies than they ever have or will.  I see the flip side, as well, as others are embracing this 35% as an unwavering fact, completely unwilling to allow for the influence of subjectivity.

Both sides are sorely misguided.

The root of the problem here is that ominous Rotten Tomatoes score.  If you aren’t familiar with Rotten Tomatoes, here’s the deal.  Rotten Tomatoes is a popular movie website that is best known for its aggregation of professional critics’ reviews of movies and television shows.  Each individual review is then designated as Fresh, if the critic liked the film, or Rotten, if they didn’t.  The percentage of Fresh reviews is then calculated and that percentage is the film’s or show’s Rotten Tomatoes score.  A score of 60% or higher will deem the film/show as Fresh, overall.  A score of 75% or higher gives a Certified Fresh designation.

Pretty simple, right?  Well, it’s intended to be.  But it’s not.  That’s the problem.  It seems more simple than it is.  And most people are interpreting the scores in a horribly ineffective way.

The issue lies with RT’s parity system.  There are way too many factors involved in analyzing the quality of a film to assign it a label using a binary method.  Right/wrong.  Black/white.  Good/bad.  That’s way too reductive and, frankly, unfair to the films, the filmmakers, and the readers.

And who, exactly, is in charge of deciding these Fresh/Rotten designations?  According to the RT website, a number of people.  And we can see here that it gets a bit tricky.  That page clearly states that a middle-of-the-road review is usually counted as Rotten.  And that’s fine if your audience is aware of that.

But most people think that a score with a Rotten percentage means most critics loathed that particular work, which simply isn’t accurate.  There’s no accounting for how much a critic liked or disliked a film.  It’s Fresh or Rotten and even that designation is open to interpretation.

The movie in question, here, is Suicide Squad but I don’t want to include any blurbs about that specific film because I want to leave it up to you to search those out if you choose to (and I recommend you do, to some degree).  But, I want to use another recent and related film to illustrate my point.  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice currently sits at 27% on RT.  The whole world seemingly took that rating to heart, either rebelling or rejoicing in the number as if God/Emilia Clarke herself declared it to be her word.  So, let’s take a closer look at some of the reviews used to arrive at that number.

As one scrolls through a film’s page at the RT website, each review is represented by a blurb that aims to synopsize that particular critic’s entire review.  A graphic is placed alongside the blurb to symbolize whether said review is designated Fresh or Rotten, and the reader can then click through to read the entire review.  Below, I will include five of those blurbs.  Guess if each represents a review that is designated Fresh or Rotten.  Good luck.

1.

Blurb 1

2.

Blurb 2

3.

Blurb 3

4.

Blurb 4

5.

Blurb 5

Okay, got it?  Think you know which are Fresh and which are Rotten?  Okay, let’s see.

1.  Fresh

Blurb 1A

2. Rotten

Blurb 2A

3. Rotten

Blurb 3A

4. Rotten

Blurb 4A

5. Fresh

Blurb 5A

And there you go.  Even if you got some or even all of them correct, anyone would have to admit that all five of those are open to some very liberal interpretation and that it doesn’t much sound like any of the five either purely loved or hated the film.  And the blurb from the first review by Ken Hanke seems to fly directly in the face of the Fresh designation that his review was assigned.

So, my point should be clear.  Even if the RT score is a severely low (or high) number, it’s naïve and presumptuous to assume that there’s a direct correlation between that number and the objective quality of the film, itself.  Many reviews are clearly positive or negative and deciding between a Fresh and a Rotten designation is easy.  But many are not.  So, the informed action to take is to peruse the reviews themselves and see exactly how strongly each critic felt and what they specifically liked and disliked.

And that leads me to point out that anyone who casually dismisses professional critics are every bit as naïve as those who take the RT scores to heart.  Professional critics didn’t get into their line of work because they hate movies.  How absurd would that be?  They love movies.  I agree that it often seems like they craft their reviews in order to manipulate their own personal reputations among their peers.  But even then, these people are educated and knowledgeable about film and their views should at least be taken into consideration.  To again illustrate my point, allow me to show you the overall consensus for Batman v Superman that RT settled on once enough reviews had come in.

Consensus

Okay.  If you read my original post on BvS (linked to above), you’ll remember that I liked it, a lot, but had some criticisms.  And, looking at this consensus, there’s some truth to it.  I don’t know that I agree that the action is the problem, but I can concur that the film tries to accomplish a little too much by looking ahead to the future rather than staying focused on the present.

So, in other words, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I can also somewhat agree with the critics.  In every post that I write after I see a movie, I make a very concerted, conscious effort to lay out what works and what doesn’t work without telling you all – my audience – what you will/should personally like/dislike.  That’s up to each of you as individuals.  When it comes to BvS, I agree with many of the criticisms.  They just didn’t bother me as much as they bothered others.

But here’s something else everyone needs to realize.  If you truly think that critics don’t matter, you couldn’t be more wrong.  BvS started out with a very strong opening weekend and then sunk like Ben Grimm with an adamantium anchor chained around his ankle.  It should have easily passed $1 billion worldwide based on its opening but it didn’t (it made just under $900 million) and that’s solely due to the reviews and word of mouth.  And word of mouth is massively fueled by reviews because very few want to disagree with the perceived experts and risk ridicule.  “You LIKED that?  How COULD you?  HAW HAW!!!”  Movies will always perform better if they have good reviews.  Always.  The critics matter.  So, maybe you’ll see that movie you’ve been anxiously awaiting, but lots of other people who were on the fence won’t.  No matter what kind of movie Suicide Squad actually is, its box office will be seriously affected by its RT score, fair or not.

So, here’s the bottom line.  Many of the critics are leveling the same accusations at Suicide Squad as other critics.  So, that means they’re probably right; those particular issues likely exist and Suicide Squad may not be as objectively high-quality as we all hoped.  But it also means that these problems won’t bother everyone to the same degree.  I’m personally more concerned with Harley Quinn than anything else.  If I love Harley, that’s all I’ll need to enjoy the film, even if I openly recognize that there are other things I don’t enjoy (and I don’t know if any of this will be the case.  Check back here on Thursday night to see.).  Maybe you care about Harley, too.  Or maybe you’re solely invested in Jared Leto’s Joker.  Or maybe you’re a Will Smith fan who sees every movie he makes.

Whatever the case, we all care about different things.  A movie’s quality can’t efficiently be expressed as a number because beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.  There are different levels of love and hatred and different reasons for them that a single number just can’t communicate.

My intention is not to discredit Rotten Tomatoes.  I actually rather like the site and I use it, myself.  But I use it in a way that truly informs me and not as an excuse to be reactionary and start commenting on every message board and Facebook post I see about how the movie clearly sucks or the critics clearly suck.  That doesn’t help anyone and it certainly doesn’t make the commenter appear knowledgeable or insightful.

So, use Rotten Tomatoes.  But dig a little deeper into the scores.  And see the movies you want to see, regardless of the score.  But adjust your expectations if enough of the critics are repeating a particular condemnation.  There’s probably something to it.

Anyway, come back tomorrow for a super-fun #ThrowbackThursday featuring one of the most beloved films of all-time and then again, tomorrow night, for my own Suicide Squad thoughts!  See you then!

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Interlude – You’re Using Rotten Tomatoes Incorrectly

50/50, Part 5 – My Top Five Favorite Films

Favorite Films

Here we are with the final mini-list of the week: my Top Five Favorite Films of the first half of 2016.  (Don’t miss Part 1, 2, 3, or 4!)  Keep in mind that there’s a distinction between “favorite” and “best”.  These are my favorites.  I guess you can think of these as the ones I’m likely to re-watch more than the others.  They aren’t necessarily the five “best” of the year but they would likely at least be among the best, in most cases.

5. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

I make no apologies.  I enjoyed the crap out of Dawn of Justice.  There are things I would have done differently.  But those things didn’t bother me that much.  I loved Superman.  I loved Wonder Woman.  I tolerated Batman and liked him better by the end.  But this was a comic book come to life and I saw things play out in front of my eyes that I never imagined would be possible.  Kevin Smith was right; more people need to just appreciate that we’re getting to see this stuff at the level at which we are.  Acknowledge the mistakes, but revel in the triumphs.  Now, I have three weeks to decide if I’ll be reveling in 3D or in 4K.

4. 10 Cloverfield Lane

cloverfield-lane-still

From the opening frame of 10 Cloverfield Lane, I vanished from our plane of existence.  I was transported into an underground bunker full of mystery, excitement, magic, and a jukebox.  I was gripped by the story.  I was gripped by the cast.  I was gripped by the world-building.  I was gripped by the atmosphere.  I was gripped by an excellent film.  When the film once again released me back into our world, I realized that being an omniscient observer to the events that I had just witnessed was as much fun as I’d had in quite a while and I anxiously awaited the opportunity to do it, again.  I have since taken advantage of that opportunity and will do so many more times in the future.

3. Captain America: Civil War

CaptainAmericaCivilWarStill05

Civil War did everything right.  Perfect characterization.  Perfect story.  Perfect Spider-Man.  There were reveals and revelations that impacted the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe and storyline developments that kept the overall narrative moving forward.  The action, effects, character work, and dialogue were all flawless.  It would have been higher had it surpassed my expectations, rather than simply met them.  That’s not a condemnation, though, as my expectations for this one were high and Civil War in no way disappointed.

2. The Conjuring 2

Conjuring 2 still

I knew The Conjuring 2 would be good, but I didn’t know it would be as good as it ended up being.  This one almost made it onto my Top Five Pleasant Surprises list, but it didn’t because it really shouldn’t have been a surprise.  The film was delayed so that James Wan could return to the director’s chair, so that meant that Warner Brothers was taking the quality of the film seriously.  Bringing back Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson to reprise their roles as Lorraine and Ed Warren should have been enough to assure me.  But I was skeptical because horror sequels tend to underwhelm, if not outright disappoint.  But what we got was yet another top-notch, high quality film that also just happened to fall within the horror genre.  One minute, I was being scared out of my chair and the next, I was feeling empathy for one of the many relatable, sympathetic characters.  My expectations were far exceeded and I’m itching to catch it, again, as soon as I can.

1. The Shallows

The Shallows Still

If you’ve been reading these columns all week, you should have seen this coming.  It’s kind of like when the Academy Awards nominations are being announced and one movie pops up in eight different categories.  You just know it’s going to be up for Best Picture at the end of it all.  Well, I’m not foolish enough to expect that The Shallows will be nominated for Best Picture, but it is my favorite movie of 2016, so far.  I didn’t just watch The Shallows, I experienced it.  Forget being an omniscient observer; I was an active participant.  Beyond that, the movie was just a gorgeous piece of work, with innovative camera shots and beautiful scenery.  Even when the sun sets and the picture goes visually dark, the exquisiteness is never diminished and the film feels like director Jaume Collet-Serra appreciates an artistic approach but lacks the pretentiousness that often joins in tandem.  We’re still months away from Oscar season, so it will be difficult for The Shallows to hold this spot on my list for the remainder of the year.  But I feel safe in declaring that it will remain in my Top Ten (probably Top Five) and, going into its second weekend, I urge you all to hit the theater over the next few days, and check it out.

50/50, Part 5 – My Top Five Favorite Films