For many decades, one simple truth has reigned over the global film industry: for a film to truly be a success, it must be a success in America. America: the home of Hollywood! It’s where the biggest celebrities on the planet make their names! Even if they don’t actually live there, it’s where they go to get rich and famous. Good old American money. They wouldn’t be anywhere without it!
But that’s changing.
Even now, as an American, I can tell you that practically every other American moviegoer believes a movie lives and dies on the American box office. Nothing else matters. In fact, do they even release movies in other countries? Once upon a time, that may have been true. But the international box office is becoming a force. China, especially, has really stepped up in the last five years or so and, suddenly, it’s not uncommon for a film to make more money there than it does in North America. And I’m not talking about foreign films that Americans have never even heard of; I’m referring to American films. Big ones. In fact, let’s start with this one.
Americans love to pretend that they hate Michael Bay’s Transformers films. Even I didn’t care for the first one, but can admit that they can be fun distractions, despite their lack of substance. And the most recent one, Age of Extinction, is actually my favorite. But we Americans loved to rag on it. I saw many a social media commenter talking about how it “only” made $245 million and how the end was near for the franchise. Well, they were kind of right. It certainly made $245 million . . . in North America. Internationally, it grossed an additional $859 million for a worldwide total of approximately $1.1 billion on a $210 million budget. All it really needed to gross in order to turn a profit was about $525 million (or approximately 2.5 times its budget). No sweat. Especially after it made $320 million in China, alone – more than in North America. Sensing the rising Chinese tide, Bay set part of the film in China, making an already-promising box office into a phenomenal one. Marvel did something similar with Iron Man 3, adding one small scene set in China (the scene did not make the domestic cut of the film). It worked, giving the film a boost to $121 million in China.
Here’s another example, from just this past weekend. Movie lovers everywhere waited with baited breath to see how well the attempted revival of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise would go over. Once the undisputed champion of the box office, the series faltered with the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides, and it appeared to be the end. Reports came out at the conclusion of the 2017 Memorial Day weekend that the film had pulled in $63 million for the three-day weekend and, counting Memorial Day, $78 million over the four-day weekend. Solid numbers, but not up to the property’s past standards (it’s the second-lowest opening weekend in franchise history, behind the first film. Dead Man’s Chest opened with a $135 million three-day weekend.).
But what most Americans didn’t bother to notice is that the film also raked in $248 million in international markets (including $68 million in China) for a $326 million total. With a $230 million budget, it needs about $250 million more to turn a profit. It looks promising, even with little support from America.
I saw Me Before You because I have a crush on Emilia Clarke that I’m absolutely not ashamed of in any way, shape, or form. But, I walked out surprised by how solid the film was. Funny, moving, poignant, and thought-provoking, with a performance by Clarke that was bound to open up more doors for her and prevent her from being stereotyped after so many years playing Daenerys Targaryen on “Game of Thrones”. I tried to get people to listen. They didn’t. The film made $56 million on a $20 million budget. Profitable, but not especially noteworthy. Except that was only its North American intake. Add on another $152 million from the international audience and we have a film with a brand new leading lady powerhouse that grossed over ten times its budget, making it an unqualified smash success.
Here’s a question: what’s your opinion of the 2017 animated film, Your Name.? If you’re American, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, with the exception of the small pocket of dedicated anime fans out there. What if I told you that Your Name. currently sits at number eight on the list of the ten highest-grossing films of 2017, right between Fifty Shades Darker and XXX: The Return of Xander Cage? The film was released in North America. It grossed about $5 million. Internationally, it earned an additional $349 million – this time mostly thanks to Japan ($235 million). I couldn’t find budget information, but rest assured, it was tiny and this film is a monstrous success, even without American support.
My final example invokes the recent conclusion of a longstanding film series with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. I recently saw some people comment about the already-announced reboot of the property, commenting that it might now be possible for those films to be successful, as if the first series wasn’t. Oh, we silly Americans. Yes, in North America, the movie only grossed $27 million on a $40 million budget. Not enough. But it didn’t need to be. You weren’t necessary, America! The rest of the world loves them some Resident Evil and rewarded the film with an additional $285 million for a total of almost eight times its budget. “Oh, well, it was the conclusion. After five other parts, they wanted to see how it would end!” you say? So, does that explain how the fourth installment, Afterlife, grossed a total of $300 million ($240 million international) and the fifth, Retribution, scored a $240 million haul ($198 million international)? The series was a hit, with the six films earning over $1.2 billion on a total budget of $288 million. So, of course they’re rebooting it. They don’t need America, but imagine if they get them, with a new take!
Filmmaking is more global than ever, and the numbers are starting to bear it out with ever-increasing frequency. As a result, it’s becoming apparent on-screen, as well. There are more exotic filming locations, more diverse casts, and more strategic release strategies. Filmmakers will continue to experiment and branch out in the future, as well. Sure, in spite of my clickbaity headline, North America is still a huge potential source of revenue for any given film studio, but now there are plenty of fish in the sea and it’s time for Americans to expand their cinematic worldview before their tastes become irrelevant, altogether.
On May 2, 2008 (officially), Marvel Studios released their first film, Iron Man. Being their maiden voyage into feature film production, and seeing as how the Iron Man character wasn’t exactly a household name, many predicted failure for Marvel’s initial effort. Instead, Iron Man grossed just over $585 million worldwide on a $140 million budget, making it a huge success and kicking off what has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The success of the MCU has been so astounding that if one of their films were to gross that same $585 million, today, it would be considered a disappointment in the eyes of many (a likely fallacy, unless said film cost over $200 million to produce).
In the wake of the MCU, other studios have been rushing to replicate Marvel’s model in the hopes of also replicating their success. Some of these efforts feel contrived (Universal’s movie monster universe, which will be initiated by this summer’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise) while others feel more natural (the similar-sounding MonsterVerse, co-starring King Kong and Godzilla, already underway). The one that absolutely felt necessary, however, is the now-up-and-running DC Extended Universe. Like Marvel, DC’s comic universe has always involved constant crossovers with its characters. Fans grew up dreaming of seeing them co-exist in big-budget live-action, as if these characters were alive and breathing, complete with their amazing powers that could only exist in our imaginations, otherwise.
And Warner Brothers launched said universe with Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman reboot, Man of Steel. The tone resulted in some mixed reviews from critics, who were only open-minded to what had come before, but it was still fairly well-received and ending up grossing $668 million worldwide on a massive $225 million budget. Conventional wisdom says that the film needed approximately $613 million to break even, so a profit was more than likely realized, even if it wasn’t as overwhelming as Warner Brothers had likely hoped. In any case, the DCEU was up and running.
Skip to the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, just about a month later, where Warner Brothers and DC announce that the next installment in the DCEU will be Batman v. Superman. While the announcement was met with much enthusiasm, many saw it as cause for pause. Warner Brothers had long been overly dependent on Batman. Even after the massive critical and box office failure of Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin, WB practically gave up on live-action films based on DC properties until trying again with . . . you guessed it . . . Batman Begins (only Catwoman – a Batman character – and Constantine – not promoted as a DC character – were given films in the time between).
So, now, after one single film that made no reference to Batman didn’t quite succeed at the level at which WB was hoping, their response is to fall back on Batman. No one could be sure, but to the more observant fan, it felt like a panic move and a change of plans. And it felt rushed – like an effort to quickly catch up to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe without taking the time to establish the characters at a more palatable pace for the casual audience. Who is this new version of Batman as a character? Why doesn’t he get his own film? The world awaited the answers.
Before those answers could come, however, WB stunned everyone on October 15, 2014, with an announcement of their full DC Comics film slate through 2020. The films they announced were:
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Suicide Squad (2016)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Justice League Part One (2017)
The Flash (2018)
Justice League Part Two (2019)
Green Lantern (2020)
Very ambitious. And this was clearly designed with the goal of putting visions of their own Extended Universe in the heads of audiences around the world. They so desperately wanted to stand side-by-side with Marvel, and they certainly had and have the talent and characters to do so. But what they seemingly don’t have is the patience, the faith, or a plan.
Sure, that looked like a plan. But, two weeks after DC’s announcement, Marvel announced their own slate. Fans were excited about all of the films coming their way from both companies. The future looked bright and fun.
Then, last March, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released around the world. The film’s reputation was smeared before the release, however, as critics savaged the film. By the time it hit theaters, many moviegoers just assumed it was horrible and the movie – once considered a lock to join the Billion Dollar Club – closed out its run with approximately $873 million worldwide. Due to its astounding budget and massive marketing costs, there remains a question as to whether or not the film even made a profit. I suspect that it did, and $873 million is a number that any films should be proud of. But Warner Brothers had a certain milestone (that $1 billion that Marvel has hit a number of times) in mind and they were embarrassed when they didn’t cross it.
Originally, Batman v Superman and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War were slated to open on the same day in May. Marvel stood firm, confident in their property and their film, whereas WB blinked, moving BvS to March. The natural assumption was that both films would benefit financially from the move and many reasoned that nothing could top the might of DC pitting the two most famous superheroes of all-time against each other onscreen. So, when Civil War out-grossed BvS by a whopping 32%, what did WB do? Did they stick to the plan like seasoned professionals who trust in their characters and believe in their own abilities? No. They panicked. And they turned once again to Batman.
One of the components of BvS that most agreed was praiseworthy was Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Dark Knight. Surprising basement dwellers everywhere who, for many years have feigned ignorance of Affleck’s talent, Affleck – a self-professed comic book lover – delivered a picture-perfect portrayal of an aging Caped Crusader, delighting fans old and new alike. So, WB decided he was the only way for them to make money. Not only was his guest spot in the upcoming Suicide Squad prominently featured in that film’s marketing, but in April of 2016 – barely a month after the release of BvS – WB suddenly announced that Affleck was going to direct a Batman solo film.
WB had already announced their upcoming DC films through the next half-decade and it was crowded and it was Batman-free. When was this movie going to be released? Mum was the word on that, but it was coming, everybody! Yet, once again, this felt like it wasn’t thought all the way through. A Batman solo film was needed beforeBvS. That was part of the problem with that movie: time had to be taken to introduce the new Batman. Wasn’t this too little, too late? And wouldn’t there be danger of WB stepping on its own toes by trying to shoehorn this film into its previously-announced schedule? Well, I guess it’s just one film, so that can be done without too much of a problem, right?
Fast forward to August when Suicide Squad hits theaters. The film receives the worst reviews of any of the DCEU movies, thus far, and none of their films had yet to be met with the same critical enthusiasm as Marvel’s worst-received films. Personally, I persist in my love for Man of Steel, which is my favorite film based on a DC property, EVER. And I maintain that Batman v Superman, while flawed, was more good than bad. But Suicide Squad . . . was not. Not by a long shot. The writing was so shameful that I can’t imagine most children giving it a free pass, much less adults who are supposedly out there reading actual books and whatnot. But, much like BvS, there was one aspect that drew nearly unanimous praise: Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.
In December of 2016, in response to the enthusiasm over Robbie and Harley, WB announces a Gotham City Sirens film. Okay, hold on. For WHEN? Well, they aren’t saying. And isn’t it a problem that Harley’s GCS partners, Catwoman and Poison Ivy, haven’t been introduced, yet? There’s no established history there. And how are they going to be organically introduced without Batman? And, again, WHEN is this supposed film coming? And what about the other films that have been announced?
Previous to that, after a massive opening weekend for Suicide Squad, The Wrap announces in an exclusive that WB is now putting Man of Steel 2 into active development. Is this in place of one of the other movies? When is this coming? Nobody knows. Maybe this could be viewed as an inaccurate report since it wasn’t announced by WB, themselves. But, in that case, why didn’t they dispute it?
Speaking of films that have been announced, see that Shazam film on their slate up there? It was in September of 2014 – almost two-and-a-half YEARS ago – when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tweeted that he was committed to portraying Black Adam in that film. The next month, WB presented that gigantic schedule of films. And nothing about Shazam, since. Nothing.
And then, just five days ago on March 30, 2017, Variety broke the exclusive that Joss Whedon will be directing a Batgirl film for WB! Come on, this is ridiculous! Yet, WB hasn’t denied any of it.
Every time word of one of these films makes the rounds, my Facebook feed just explodes with people who are buying into it all. But I’m here to tell you, not all of these films are going to materialize. The Affleck Batman film is already falling apart at its foundations.
So, what are the possibilities, here? One is that WB is sticking to their previously revealed lineup from 2014 and are developing at least FIVE additional movies (and actually sticking with Shazam) FOUR or more years ahead of time, including hiring talent. This isn’t how filmmaking happens, folks. Yes, sometimes movies are being developed that far ahead of time, but directors and actors typically aren’t locked in that early. They have other projects to attend to and plan for. They can’t commit unless work is beginning soon.
Another possibility is that they’re actually going to make fifteen films over the span of five years, despite having already scheduled ten of them, with two already released and two more on the horizon. That would leave eleven films over three years. It’s not happening. That’s too much for one division to handle when the films are at this scale.
A third option is that WB is just lying about much of this. I don’t think that’s the case. Here’s what I think . . ..
I think WB just has no idea what they’re doing. All they understand is Batman. So they keep announcing or leaking word of these mostly-Batman-related projects to get people excited and thinking positive while, behind the scenes, WB struggles with their own self-confidence, identity, and insecurities. They’re too worried about what Marvel is doing to just make a plan, hire quality behind-the-scenes talent to bring their ideas to life, and succeed on their own merits, rather than trying to be the biggest dog in the yard. WB doesn’t have to make more money than Marvel to be a success. Making a profit and pleasing audiences – both critics and general audiences – is all they need to worry about.
I’m at the point where I pay no attention to any of these announcements. I assume there will soon be word of a Batwoman movie, a Joker movie, an Azrael movie, a Calendar Man movie, a Renee Montoya movie, and, naturally, an Ace the Bat-Hound movie. No matter what I hear, I can only truly believe a DC-based film is actually coming once it enters production. Wonder Woman and Justice League are happening. Beyond that? We’ll see. Marvel made a plan and – after switching to their backup plan once Sony agreed to share the use of Spider-Man, have stuck with it. The biggest alteration has been moving The Inhumans from the big screen to television, but even with that, the first two episodes are being released in IMAX theaters, first. If WB wants to emulate Marvel, that’s how they should do it: by emulating their confidence and by not making false promises to their fans.
I like DC. I like their characters, I like their comics and, for the most part, I like their movies. But I don’t like indecisiveness and I don’t like being misled. If Warner Brothers isn’t sure about a project, they shouldn’t mention it to the press or to anyone else. It doesn’t need to be a competition with Marvel and I wish I didn’t have to frame it as such. But their handling of their DC properties is turning it into that by their own choosing. And their constant waffling and lack of follow-through is only emphasizing just how behind the Marvel curve they truly are.
This weekend, I took myself a little trip down to Greenville, South Carolina, for the third annual South Carolina Comicon. The fledgling con is growing in size rather quickly and is already attracting many thousands of people, as I witnessed, firsthand. This was my first time attending, but I’m a con veteran (it was my third convention in four weekends, including a cross-country trip to Seattle for Emerald City Comic Con).
I am a collector of many geek-related items, one of which is photos with and autographs from anyone who has appeared in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film or television show. I have done rather well in this venture, securing names such as Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, and just three weeks ago in Seattle, Vincent D’Onofrio and Evangeline Lilly. While I respect these people for their work ethic and talent and appreciate the quality entertainment that they provide me, I don’t place them on a pedestal. I don’t get nervous and I in fact enjoy talking to them about the work and – if there’s time – learning a bit about filmmaking from them. I look at this as a collecting exercise, in which I can flip through my binder-o’-8’X10″s and think back to cool little moments when I got to live in a different world, just for a second.
Appearing at this particular convention was Spencer Wilding. He is best known as portraying the one and only Darth Vader in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But he was also the Mean Guard in 2014’s crowd-pleasing MCU blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. Sure, the role wasn’t exactly Captain America or the Hulk, but it counts, and one of my goals for the con was to add him to my MCU binder.
So, let’s jump to this past Friday. My drive to Greenville is extended by an unnecessary 90 minutes due to three traffic jams. And I have also worked a full day, teaching at the university. So, by the time I arrived at the hotel, I’m pretty tired. Also, my dad wanted to do a father/son weekend, so he met me there, arriving several hours before I was able to.
Upon my arrival, knowing my dad is already there, I approach the front desk to get the key to my own separate room. There are a couple of different desk clerks helping the incoming guests and, after a few minutes, the first available clerk pleasantly asks me how she can help. I immediately notice that she has a warm, yet quirky personality, and she also happens to be rather cute. This isn’t all that uncommon, though; there are attractive people everywhere and we all see them, every day.
I show her my ID to confirm that I am who I claim to be. We have a moment of informal banter before she hands me my key and then says . . . something . . . else, but for whatever reason, I’m sure I heard her correctly. I think she said that she is also going to the convention and that she hoped to see me there. I’m toting my Hulk messenger bag full of my sketchbooks, comics, 8″X10″s and all of the other items I need for the show, so I think that perhaps she had seen that, correctly deduced why I was in town, and then attempted to initiate conversation.
Here’s where I need to inform you of something. I suck with women. Really, I’m awful. Putting modesty aside, it’s not because of my appearance, as I’m not hideously deformed and – though I’m not an Olympic athlete – I’m not in horrible shape. I’m not a buffoon, either; I teach at a university, learned to read at two, teach myself advanced mathematical concepts, and am as objectively intelligent as anyone. It’s not because I treat women poorly; I respect all people and get along well with virtually anyone, until they start praising Donald Trump. And it’s not a commitment thing. I hate change; commitment is perfect for me. I love the idea of commitment.
No, when it comes to women, I’m just a f*cking idiot. I don’t know what I’m doing. Some people have trouble seeing things from others’ perspectives. I’m the opposite; I’m capable of seeing things from everyone’s perspective. So, when it comes to approaching a woman that I’m interested in, I ask myself if she would prefer to be approached through method A, B, C, and so on, then I get wrapped up in the fact that I can see the benefits of each approach but I don’t know which one she would prefer, so I get all discombobulated and ultimately screw it up. Every time. A few years ago, I really put myself out there for someone I felt a huge connection with. It ended poorly. And I gave up on the whole thing.
So, with women, despite my best efforts, I’m just a f*cking idiot.
So, what do I do when this beautiful woman tries to initiate a conversation with me about my favorite hobby: going to comic conventions? I pretend I understand her, say, “Duuuuuuh, okay!” and then head up to my room. F*cking idiot.
So, I meet up with my dad and we come back downstairs for dinner. All I’ve had to eat that day since a small breakfast is a pear, a Snickers, and a NesQuik. I’m starved. We eat at the hotel restaurant and I mention that I want some chocolate. He suggests I get a dessert but I don’t want to overdo it, so I figure I’ll just grab something from a vending machine. We head back up to our rooms and I find the vending area, but there are only drinks – no snacks. He goes on to his room to retire for the night, while I head back to the lobby to look for chocolate.
As with many hotels, I find that there is a little “cupboard” near the front desk (basically a small convenience store with snacks, over-the counter meds, and so on). I step in and find my two favorites: Reese Cups and another Snickers. I go to the front desk to pay and my friend from earlier comes to my assistance. Like the moron I am around women I’m attracted to, I drop my Snickers, sending it loudly crashing to the floor.
“Oh, hey, you can get another one, if you want!” she says.
“Awww, okay. That will be . . . four dollars?” she states questioningly, biting her lip and raising her eyebrows as if to say, “I know this is overpriced. Do you still want it?” Of course I do. It’s chocolate.
She says something else, stumbling over her words. I follow in kind, stumbling over my words, as I say, “Earlier, when I was down here, you said something right before I went up to my room, and I didn’t quite catch it. What was it?”
“Oh, the con! I’m going to it, too!” We then have a casual and – more importantly, comfortable – conversation about our respective geekdoms and in which areas our individual interests lie. By the time I head back to my room for the night, I’m intrigued, not just by the content of the conversation, but by her spirit, her smile, and the way she exudes energy.
I wake up at 6:00, the next morning, and meet my dad for breakfast at the hotel. As we eat, I notice an extremely tall man come in and take another table nearby. I catch a glimpse of his face and realize that it’s Spencer Wilding! Darth Vader himself is having breakfast at the next table over!
I quietly say to my dad, “Hey, I paid to have get an autograph from and have a picture with that guy! He was Darth Vader in the new Star Wars movie!” My dad is a smart man, but he’s clueless about geek culture, so I kept it to the basics. He says, “You should just get it now and not pay.” That’s counter to the culture, so I just say, “No, I prepaid and he’s trying to eat. I’ll just see him in a bit.”
The plan is to take only my dad’s car. He was to drop me off at the con and then he was going to go to a car show (cars are his thing, whereas comics and movies are mine), then come back later and pick me up. He also wants to run his car through the car wash. He needs ones and I can’t help, so on our way out, he stops by the front desk.
My new friend is there and breaks a ten for my dad. She tells him to have a good day. I throw her a look and a smile, making eye contact, and she wishes me the same. I wonder if work would keep her from the con.
At the con, I meet Spencer. He is nothing but friendly and gracious. He comments on how much fun he had filming his scene with Chris Pratt in Guardians and he takes a great picture with me. I can’t say anything but positives about my interaction with him.
Dad and I finish going about our business and decide to come back to the hotel to take a break at about 2:00 that afternoon. I had to go back out to the convention to pick up a sketch and then we were meeting other family for dinner at 6:30, but we had a little time. I head back out to my car to grab a couple of things – noticing that the Woman of Interest (I’m going to call her Genie, though this is NOT her name. I just need something by which I can refer to her and don’t want to use her real name) is still at the desk and, on my way back in, I see that she’s now gone. Another woman working the front desk sees me and, asking about the con, says, “How was it?” I think this odd, as I can’t remember seeing or speaking to this woman previously, but as I approach to respond, Genie emerges from the back.
“Not making it to the show?” I inquired.
“Oh, is it closed? I was going to go after work!”
“No, it closes at 6:00.”
“Oh, okay. I’m going to try and make it.”
We proceed to have an easy conversation about Seattle, the fact that she’s from Montana, and the con. I inform her that I’m going back out, myself, so I’ll look for her. She consents and, as I head back to the elevator, she says, “Come back and see us! I’ll be here in the morning!”
Wow! Okay! I think. I then playfully respond: “Well, so will I!”
“I know, WHAT?! CRAZY!”
I’m more intrigued.
She’s not at the desk as I head back out, and I don’t spot her at the show. I have a nice dinner with my family, then relax the rest of the night.
Cut to this morning. I begin to wonder if I should maybe make an effort to maintain contact with Genie, once I leave the hotel. I’m resistant to the idea. Not only have I had enough of the stresses, frustrations, and heartbreaks that tend to come with sort of thing, but we also live three-and-a-half hours apart. Is it even worth the effort, despite the spark and obvious chemistry? I decide to take some of my belongings to my car, see if we interact, and just play it by ear.
I step off of the elevator. I should make a point of saying that, at this hotel, one doesn’t pass the front desk to get from the elevator to the hotel exit. When getting off of the elevator, the front desk is about thirty feet to the right and the exit is about fifteen feet to the left. As I walk towards the exit, I glance to the right to see if I can spot Genie. Sure enough, she’s there. She looks up and sees me, so I throw her a wave. She smiles and says something along the lines of, “Good morning!”
“Good morning!” I retort.
A stutterstep of a pause, and then, “It’s good to see you!” she projects.
Well, this can only be a good sign. “It’s good to see you!” I reply with a smile. Keep in mind that this exchange of pleasantries is occurring across the lobby, with thirty-plus feet of space between us.
On my way back in, I approach her at the desk.
“Did you get to go out, yesterday?”
“No, I didn’t. I’m hoping to make it, today.”
I inform her that I have to go back, one more time, to pick up a final sketch but that the con doesn’t open until noon, so I’m just trying to kill time until then. She thinks and says, “Well, have you eaten breakfast?”
“Um, kind of. I finished the box of Girl Scout cookies I got, yesterday.”
We proceed to have a completely silly, entirely tongue-in-cheek conversation about Thin Mints, how delicious they are, and their health benefits. It was goofy and fun and exactly the sort of banter I enjoy having. We finally formally exchange names and shake hands, as I make a joke about how it’s awful late to be doing such a thing, seeing as I’m about to leave. “Well, we still have the rest of our time,” is her reply.
I don’t want to take up her time on the clock and maybe get her in trouble, so I say, “Well, I’ll be back down in a bit.”
“Okay!” she says, cheerfully.
I head to my room and lay there, asking myself if it’s truly a good idea to make any effort that would potentially extend contact beyond today. I’m awful at reading women and their level of interest (see the previous f*cking idiot references) but I didn’t see her interacting with anyone else the way she had been with me, so I’m torn. I decide to give her my name and number on a Post-It as I check out and say that she should feel free to use it if she’s ever in my area or if she just wants to say, “Hi”. That way, she isn’t put on the spot by me asking for her contact info and she’s free to reach out to me, or not. If not, no biggie; it’s not necessarily a condemnation of me. After all, I have hang-ups, too, and they have nothing to do with this super-cool person I had stumbled upon. I take a breath, jot my info down, and nervously head downstairs to check out.
I depart the elevator and turn towards the front desk. I see one front desk clerk and then, further down towards the end of the desk is Genie. And Spencer Wilding. Darth Vader, himself. He’s leaned over on the desk, being charming and flirty and she seems to be eating it up. I approach the desk, waiting for her to see me and say something. I hand my key to the other clerk, who thanks me. It’s still just Genie and Spencer. I don’t even exist. I turn around and walk out. And that’s it.
I was just c*ckblocked by Darth Vader.
WHAT . JUST. HAPPENED. Movies and comics are my life. And now the biggest villain in cinematic history just actively prevented me from possibly making a meaningful connection!
Now, please don’t read into my use of the word “c*ckblocked”. That’s just a buzzword that succinctly sums up the situation (unlike this post). This was never about sex for me. I enjoyed talking to this woman. I enjoyed her vibe, her humor, and her whole deal. I simply wanted to let her know that I was open to getting to know her better if she was also interested. If not, fine, but I thought she deserved a say in the matter. That’s it. And I never got the chance. Because of the Sith Lord Vader.
Believe me, I can see the humor of the situation from the outsider’s perspective. Feel free to chuckle; it’s okay, really. It’s incredibly absurd, isn’t it? I always fall back to movies because they never let me down; they only make my life better and not worse. And now this.
But, as funny as it is, I’m also legitimately a bit bummed out. For once, I think I was doing well. I think I was handling it perfectly – exactly as I should. I think she genuinely enjoyed talking to me as much as I did talking to her. I had no expectations. I just wanted to learn more about her. And my plan for achieving that was appropriate – direct, but not too forward. Respectful of her, but taking my own needs and wants into account as well. And then I was thrown off by the most ridiculous of circumstances that left me with no acceptable methods of resolution.
What was I supposed to do? Walk up to her anyway, with Darth Vader doing his thing? In retrospect, that would have been pretty badass, sure. But that’s not who I am. I don’t forcefully interrupt people’s conversations, unless it’s an emergency. And this wasn’t. Maybe this was a sign not to give her my number, right? How can one know? Also, I have to figure that she knew I was there, in all reality, and she made the choice to not acknowledge me. That’s what I think.
But, if not, I had an idea that might have worked. I thought that I could buy a box of those Thin Mints while I was back at the con, return to the hotel before I left town, and presented her with the cookies and the number, both. And I can hear half of you, now: “Yes! You should have! It’s just like something out of a movie!” And I can hear the other half of you: “So glad you didn’t! That kind of thing only works in the movies!” And that’s what it’s like to live in my head.
To be clear, Spencer Wilding did nothing wrong, and I don’t actually have any resentment towards him. It’s the absurdity of the situation and the fact that something always seems to get in my way and keep me single. I just wish it wasn’t the movies, this time.
Fist Fight (previously titled – up until very recently – Teacher Fight, which I like better), wasn’t the first movie I wanted to see, this weekend, but that’s how it worked out due to the timing of them at my local theater. The premise is silly and simple: one teacher (Ice Cube’s Mr. Strickland) gets mad at another teacher (Charlie Day’s Mr. Campbell, and I won’t say why) and then challenges him to a fist fight in the parking lot after school in a show of bravado that is more typical for their supposedly-less-mature students. It’s not a premise that is very believable but it’s really not supposed to be. This is a screwball comedy that makes promises and then follows through on them.
Much like last week’s The LEGO Batman Movie, Fist Fight is a film that’s marketed as a pure comedy and is also actually funny. Those are few and far between (usually the dramedies deliver more sincere laughs than the supposed comedies), but to have two already in 2017 is hopefully a good sign for the year to come! Everyone involved in the film really comes together to make it all work. Of course, this movie isn’t a transformative experience for the soul, like many of the films that are up for awards at next weekend’s Oscars. But it’s a fun, entertaining time at the movies for anyone (17 and older – in mind as well as in body) who might need to forget the reality of their lives for about 90 minutes.
Charlie Day and Ice Cube share top billing, but Day’s Mr. Campbell is unquestionably the film’s lead and protagonist. Mr. Campbell is a sad little man, always the doormat for anyone else who exudes any confidence in life. But he takes it all in stride, just getting through his days and heading home to his pregnant wife and daughter. Mr. Strickland is the opposite. He’s the school’s Scary Teacher. Everyone fears him, including the other employees.
In reality, neither of these men would likely have their jobs. Campbell is walked all over by the students and Strickland is constantly one hair away from hurting someone. And this is the problem; cuts are being made and it’s the worst time for problems between the two to arise.
Day and Cube are honestly typecast in their roles, but so what? They’re each made for these kind of parts and they play them perfectly. Day’s comic timing is impeccable and Cube does “mean” as well as anyone. They’re supported by a sharp script and a game director in Richie Keen, making his feature film debut. Keen honed his skills on such television shows as “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, “Angie Tribeca”, and “The Goldbergs”, so he has credible experience and it shows.
I was probably most impressed by the film’s script. Yes, there is some surprising character growth at play, here, but – as appreciated as it is – that’s neither necessary nor unheard of. It does add a level of investment for Mr. Campbell that helps the film’s ultimate payoff, but that isn’t the script’s high point.
The most surprising element of the script is what I said, earlier: it’s actually funny. And it’s both written and delivered in such expert fashion that I was finding myself laughing at types of humor that usually do nothing for me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of wit and intelligence in the one-liners and dialogue, but there’s more to the movie than that. There’s obviously some slapstick, but it’s slapstick that makes sense within the framework of the story. And it’s funny because of when, why, and how it happens, not just because it’s happening. And there’s shock humor, but the shock is coupled with other elements that make it work on additional levels besides it’s-funny-because-they’re-saying-a-bunch-of-inappropriate-things-that-people-don’t-usually-say. A lot of this humor centers around a colleague of our leads, Jillian Bell’s Holly. And she’s great. But my absolute favorite scene is also technically founded upon shock humor, and doesn’t involve Holly. But the context of it, who it comes from, and how it’s presented and portrayed puts it over the top and it’s my favorite scene in any film, so far in 2017. I won’t give you any clues regarding the content or placement of said scene, because the element of surprise is paramount to its effectiveness. But even if I had hated the rest of the film (which I obviously didn’t), this one scene would have been worth the cost of my ticket.
I keep waiting for a 2017 film to really disappoint me. Many of them have been poorly-reviewed, including this one. And the aforementioned The LEGO Batman Movie is the only one I’ve seen, so far, that is likely to stand a shot at making my year-end list of favorites. But Fist Fight was far better than I expected and also far better than it has any right to be. My biggest complaint is the name change. All throughout the film, the impending “Teacher Fight” is referred to. Why change the film’s title from that to “Fist Fight”? The branding was in place and it presents a much more accurate picture of what the film actually is. Don’t second guess yourselves, Hollywood, and don’t fix something that isn’t broken! I’m a teacher! I wasn’t offended! You should have stuck with Teacher Fight!
Other than that, if you need a laugh, you’ll find it in Fist Fight. It’s a comedy that’s confident enough to be crude without using its crassness as a crutch. The film refuses to be a one-trick pony and offers multiple styles of humor with each of them being delivered with expertise. If you saw the trailers or TV spots and thought you might like it, you almost certainly will. You might even love it.
Here we go. I’ve been trying to see as many straggling 2016 films that I can before compiling this list. Truth be told, there are still a few that I need to see, but it doesn’t look like I have any way of seeing them for at least two weeks, and I don’t want to put this list off, any longer. I honestly believe that any of those three (A Monster Calls, Elle, and Loving) have a shot at cracking this list, which bothers me. But, once I see them, I’ll give them their proper due, if they deserve it. All together, counting the films that I watched at home, I saw 114 2016 films.
So, the question is this: What determines if a film is one of 2016’s “top” films for this list? What is a “top” film? A film that I liked on a subjective level? A film more objectively determined to be of high-quality, regardless of how much I personally did or didn’t enjoy it? Well . . . it’s both. The higher the combination of the two, the higher it places on this list. If these were my 25 “favorite” films, it would be a different list. If these were what I saw as 2016’s 25 “best” films, it would also be a different list. These are the films that I’m most likely to both recommend and revisit. So, here are the 25 films from 2016 that I felt had the strongest mix of quality and entertainment value. And it’s my list, so just deal.
Regardless, nothing is on here without good reason, and I’ll give brief explanations for each inclusion and, sometimes, for its position. So, let’s get started! Here – in my opinion – are . . .
The Top 25 Films of 2016
I loved this movie. The fact that it ranks so “low” on this list just speaks to the strength of the other films. It lacked some of the wit and cleverness that I expect from Disney, which is why it isn’t higher. But the themes and messages are bold for an animated feature coming out of Buena Vista Entertainment, the characters are memorable and lovable (looking at you, Flash!), and the animation is brilliant. Zootopia is an amazing film. (Original post.)
24. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Yep. I make no apologies. In a Best-Of list, this one doesn’t make it. But throw in the entertainment value, and it’s enough for this particular list. I don’t care what anybody else thinks, the last 45-60 minutes of this film is everything I always dreamed of seeing in comic book movies when I was a kid. There were characterization problems. There were logic issues. But there was also the Trinity vs Doomsday in the battle to end all battles. And it was spectacular. And there was Wonder Woman. She couldn’t have been more amazing. You don’t have to love the film. But you can’t say with any degree of credibility that it didn’t have its strong points, either. (Original post.)
I can hear the whining, now. “Moonlight is only one spot above Batman v Superman?! Wah wah wah!” If that’s what you’re thinking or planning to type, just stop. You’ll just expose the fact that you didn’t read the introduction and don’t understand what the list is. In a Best-of list, Moonlight would be significantly higher than number 23. But, combining quality with entertainment value, it drops. There is little-to-no entertainment value in this film. That isn’t a criticism; it’s simply an observation. Moonlight isn’t about entertainment and it’s not trying to entertain. From A24 Studios, Moonlight is a vessel to communicate a story and a message. It does so beautifully. Its immense quality is enough to get it on this list even without the entertainment aspect, and that should be enough to count as a wholehearted endorsement of this film. (Original post.)
22. The Witch
“Art-house horror” is the phrase that was bandied about when trying to succinctly sum up The Witch. Combining horrific ideas and visuals, sociopolitical commentary, an immersive atmosphere, and performances that transport the viewer to another time (with the help of some amazing set and costume designers), the film at once delivers a thought-provoking narrative for the more-discerning audiences and an unnerving horror film for those seeking a more traditional experience without thinking too much about the subtext (as long as they can get past the fact that it’s a period piece). A24 Studios is one of the three best, most consistent production studios in the industry and The Witch is another fine example of their work. (Original post.)
21. Shin Gojira
Shin Gojira was my single favorite movie-going experience in all of 2016. It was a sold-out screening, packed full of immensely enthusiastic Gojira lovers who understand the property. The film maintains the franchise’s tradition of doubling as a political metaphor as it presents itself as an action film on the surface. After hilariously mocking the inefficiency of governmental operations in a given scene, Shin Gojira will often then shift tones and slam the viewer with an impressively epic battle scene. And what about the creature’s first form in the film? There were audible gasps from the audience (and I might have been one of them). It was bizarre and par for the course for a film that surprised at every turn. (Original post.)
20. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War did everything right. The characters were spot on. The action was on a grand scale. It delivered Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It featured a level of complexity rarely seen in films of this genre. The only reason it isn’t higher is because I felt it lacked surprise “moments”, so to speak. Not storyline twists. We got those. I mean the little watercooler moments that other MCU films such as The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier provided (though some of Ant-Man’s lines came pretty close). But that’s minor. The film delivered in all of the most important ways. (Original post.)
19. Café Society
I have said many, many times, over the course of my life, that Woody Allen’s films are better when he sticks to writing and directing and leaves the acting to the professionals. Café Society is yet another fine example of that. Allen is such a talented director that he actually gets a charismatic performance out of Kristen Stewart. The rest of his casting is perfect, as well, with Jesse Eisenberg and Blake Lively, in particular, bringing their A-games. A whimsical look at old Hollywood, Café Society is all at once charming, heartbreaking, enlightening, and entertaining. (Original post.)
18. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
If I had decided to do a “2016’s Top Five Films That Were Most Unfairly Overlooked by Audiences and Critics, Alike” list (and maybe I should have), Hunt for the Wilderpeople would have absolutely been number one. This movie has everything that everyone says they look for in movies. And I mean everyone. General audiences would love it, if they would just watch it. Critics did love it, but it’s gone entirely overlooked during awards season, anyway. It shouldn’t be. It should be getting Best Picture nominations at every awards show. Every single one. But, we’ll have to settle for allowing it to reign in our hearts. Which it forever will. (Original post.)
17. The Nice Guys
The Nice Guys was probably the movie that surprised me the most in 2016. I saw it because of the reviews, but expected to dislike it, anyway. I haven’t often been impressed by director Shane Black, I’m not crazy about the seventies decade, and the trailers didn’t showcase the best material from the film. Thankfully, I trust the professionals who know what they’re talking about, and the critics got me into the theater. I had a blast watching Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe stumble their way through their investigation and will happily revisit this film throughout the years. (Original post.)
16. Swiss Army Man
I’m starting to repeat myself, here, but coming from – yet again – A24 Studios, Swiss Army Man is the most inventive, outside-the-box movie of 2016. There’s never been anything like it and there will never be anything like it, again. If you want to be taken off guard, constantly surprised, consistently laughing, and endlessly entertained, turn this one on, get comfortable, and let Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano blow you away. I promise you that you’ll never forget it. (Original post.)
I’ll be back with the next installment in the next day or two! In the meantime, make sure you don’t miss it and follow us on Facebook!
(Disclaimer: Yes, I know it’s now 2017. But if you look at the way I worded my goal for the 2016 March every single time, I stated that it was to see at least 100 2016 films in the theater, not to see at least 100 films in the theater in 2016. They are two very different things. So, as long as I’m seeing 2016 films in the theater, the count will continue to climb.)
Following the efforts of African-American father Troy Maxson as he attempts to raise his family in 1950s America, Fences is the rare film that not only stars Denzel Washington but which he also helms. And it’s the most complex film I’ve seen in quite some time.
That complexity is rooted in its honesty and stark realism. On the surface, the story seems obtusely simple. But once the characters’ motivations behind their words and actions are explored, the film becomes intricate and layered beyond all expectations.
Troy and his family all feel like real people. I harp on the importance of that particular component of filmmaking on a regular basis and the entire team behind Fences has mastered it. The characters are written realistically. They each repeat their favorite turns of phrase and words. They laugh uproariously at their own jokes, even though said jokes have been lifted from a thousand other sources. And they speak like people from the 1950s with their backgrounds, upbringings, and desires would speak. Their life experiences as well as their hopes for the future are reflected not only in the message of their words, but in their choice of phrasing.
The characters are also portrayed to perfection. People tried their best to put Viola Davis’s performance as Amanda Waller in Suicide Squad over as something special but she wasn’t actually given anything to do in that woefully underwritten role. Here, as Troy’s wife Rose, she gets to . . . I was going to say “shine”, but that’s not strong enough. She radiates. She’s raw and powerful and a painfully sympathetic figure throughout the entire story. It would be easy to wonder why Rose is with Troy, at all, but Viola convincingly sells it.
As Troy, Washington gives my favorite male performance of 2016. He is singlehandedly responsible for the majority of the film’s complexity. At the outset of the narrative, he comes off as a decent, likable family man. A little rough around the edges, but basically good. However, just like in real life, as more time is spent with Troy, the real man underneath becomes more and more exposed and the audience is no longer sure he’s who they thought he was.
The opening scene reminded me very much of the opening to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. When I say that, I mean in delivery, not content. It’s a basic, isolated, 20-minute scene of dialogue that opens the window into the minds of the principles and their relationships. It’s lighthearted and fairly benign but there’s an unmistakable ominous presence lurking just underneath the surface.
As that unfolds over the course of the film, Troy becomes increasingly transparent, yet no less complex. He’s a man who feels like society owes him; he’s simultaneously afraid and mistrusting of the world that’s changing and progressing around him; he feels the need to maintain control of his entire universe. And those traits are the groundwork for how he lives his life. It’s not a particularly productive combination. He becomes so concerned with living up to his responsibilities to his family – mostly in an effort to prove to the world that he’s “a real man” – that he loses touch with how to love them. He lives a life of hypocrisy but never once comprehends the irony of the “do as I say, not as I do” approach to his relationships.
Washington – both as director and actor – navigates the difficulties of this material like the seasoned professional that he has become. His work in this film is beyond remarkable on every possible level. He’s incredible to watch and also remember that he pulled similarly exceptional performances from the remaining cast members, as well, including several who are young and inexperienced. For me, this is the best work of Washington’s career and I hope it’s reflected at the awards ceremonies in the upcoming months.
If there’s one place the film falters, a bit, it’s in the fact that there’s never really a hook – an unresolved plot element that propels the narrative forward as we wait for the denouement. There’s no rule that says that there has to be one, of course, but it’s always a bit tougher on the viewer if there isn’t. This is why the film feels so simple on the surface. But the dialogue and character work are both so unnaturally strong that they more than compensate for the fairly by-the-numbers tale. It’s all in the execution and the execution is exquisite.
Fences isn’t an easygoing day at the movies, but it’s a showcase for some of the best that the art form has to offer. Though the film was very good, there were better ones in 2016. But I challenge anyone to find a male performance from 2016 that tops Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson (if I discover one in the weeks to come, I’ll make it known). Viola Davis is right up there at the top of her game, as well, with a part that allows her to flex her muscles and put on full display why her name is consistently on the tip of so many tongues that surround the industry. For film lovers, Fences is a master class of performances and in believable, honest writing. It deserves your attention.
Sometimes, when watching a movie, a certain character just resonates. Maybe you want to be like them. Maybe you wish you knew them in real life. Maybe their very presence on-screen shifted the tone of the film and made it more interesting. Or maybe you just knew that when they showed up, something sweet was about to happen. In any of these cases, you probably think to yourself, “They. Are so. Cool.” That’s what we’re celebrating, today. Not the best characters, necessarily. The coolest characters. The characters you wish you were. The characters you want to marry. The characters that make you say, “AWWWWW, YEAH!” These are . . .
2016’s Five Coolest Characters
(I want to note that these characters must be new to film in 2016. No Captain America, no Iron Man, no Batman, no Darth Vader, etc.)
5. Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, The Edge of Seventeen)
Mr. Bruner, perfectly cast as and played by Woody Harrelson, is that quick-witted, sharp-tongued teacher that we all loved in school (and some of us may have ended up becoming, ourselves, perhaps). He takes the sassiness of his students and throws it right back in their faces, finding unrivaled joy in his ability to hold a metaphorical mirror up to their faces and show them the self-parodies that they make of themselves. And it’s so satisfying to watch. At the same time, he does it because he cares and he wants them to be better – to avoid perpetuating the millennial stereotype and become respectable, independent adults. But if they’d rather not, he’s fine mocking them for their bad choices. (Original post.)
4. Nancy (Blake Lively, The Shallows)
What isn’t cool about Nancy? She’s intelligent and educated, crafty and resourceful, prioritizes her family, chooses a profession that allows her to give back to the world, and is in the peak physical condition in which a human being can seemingly be. Oh. And she’s willing to go one-on-one with the meanest, nastiest, grudge-holding shark that anyone will ever encounter. Her resolve, heart, and desire to survive never dies (though I’m not telling you whether or not she, herself does!). She not only thinks fast, but she thinks twelve steps ahead, and if Harry and Marv thought they got off bad after crossing paths with Kevin McCallister, they can count their lucky stars they didn’t break into a young Nancy’s house! (Original post.)
3. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
I’m not sure if Chirrut Îmwe was my favorite character in Rogue One, but he was by far the coolest. Sure, the blind martial arts expert is hardly a new addition to the annals of genre entertainment (though, if it was, he’d have probably been higher on this list). Still, the execution is what put him over the top, and that’s a credit to both Donnie Yen and the filmmaking team behind him. The calm, quiet confidence that Chirrut carries before breaking bad on everyone and everything around him just adds to his appeal and I’d love to think that I would carry myself the same way if I knew I was about to have to open a can. Chirrut is the one on this list that I’d like to be (I’m already practically blind, anyway). (Original post.)
2. The Sisters (Rooney Mara, Kubo and the Two Strings)
Chilling, menacing, and an immediate threat. That’s what the Sisters were in the impeccable Kubo and the Two Strings. Capable of committing deadly acts while somehow making them feel graceful, their dichotomous nature is reflected in the contrast between their elegant, picturesque masks and their dark, ominous wardrobe. Throw in Rooney Mara’s unnerving voiceovers and the Sisters foretell of not only death, but of something really, really cool. (Original post.)
1. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
I don’t care what anybody thinks about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (no, really. I don’t care.), anyone who claims that Wonder Woman wasn’t cool as $#!+ in that movie is a dirty, dirty liar. The way that she saves Batman from certain death, the way that she stands toe-to-toe with the biggest and baddest threat the world has ever seen, and the way that she enjoys it puts Diana at the top of the list of 2016’s coolest (new) movie characters. She saved the boys, she saved the world, she got the sickest musical theme of the entire year, and she’s coming back for more in 2017! Thank Hera! (Original post.)
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