Black Panther Settles It: You Aren’t Too Good For Marvel Studios’ Movies

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Marvel Studios has been on a tear both critically and commercially since bursting onto the scene with 2008’s Iron Man.  They regularly raise the bar in terms of what any single movie can offer an audience and have made a habit of breaking and setting records.  They are the current measuring stick for success in the film industry and no other studio can match them for sheer consistency when examining both their creative output and their financial success.  Many other studios have tried to mimic Marvel’s model but have done so without the forethought and patience enacted by Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and his crew, and have therefore been unable to find the same level of regular success or even anything approaching it.

Yet, there still exist pockets of moviegoers who think themselves above Marvel’s brand of entertainment.  You know them.  They make such broad statements such as, “I have no interest.  I don’t care about superheroes.”  Or perhaps they’ll utter something even more pretentious, along the lines of, “Oh, people running around in costumes?  No thanks.”  Everyone is entitled to their opinion and certainly tastes will vary.  But most – and maybe even nearly all – of these folk are guilty of making assumptions without even seeing the films.  And, often , if they have seen them, they’ve done so without putting any thought into what they watched, only taking in what’s on the surface while the meat of the films sails smoothly over their heads.

I’m not saying that all of the Marvel Studios films are flawless masterpieces.  I love a lot – even most – of them, but I’m not a huge fan of every one of them.  My personal least favorite of the Marvel Studios films is Iron Man 2, as, in the film, director Jon Favreau simply delivered a cosmetic and structural rehash of his original Iron Man. So, I’m not here to say that all of Marvel’s films are perfect or for everyone.  But I am saying that they generally have something to offer beyond the obvious – something underneath the surface that elevates them above the standard fare.  And I am saying that each one deserves a chance from people of all kinds.  This weekend, Black Panther obliterated box office records, taking in more domestically in four days than Justice League did in its entire run.  There’s a reason for that, and it’s not the action scenes.

Black Panther is the eighteenth film from Marvel Studios.  Every single one of those eighteen films has a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered positive reviews overall.  Those reviews were from supposed “joyless” critics who “don’t like anything” that casual audiences like.  That’s an ignorant take on what critics do and who they are.  In truth, they have to see basically every film, so their expectations are higher.  They need more than the bare minimum.  And Marvel Studios has given them more almost every time out.  Let’s look at each of the films from Marvel Studios.  I will list each below along with its underlying theme that most people overlook.  These themes are what sets Marvel apart from everyone else.  The themes aren’t directly responsible for the films’ financial success, but they are largely to thank for the critical responses.

  1. Iron Man – redemption
  2. The Incredible Hulk – accepting one’s own flaws
  3. Iron Man 2 – addiction
  4. Thor – humility
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger – defining one’s own destiny
  6. The Avengers – unity
  7. Iron Man 3 – hero worship versus humanity
  8. Thor: The Dark World – ummm . . . okay, maybe not in this one.  17/18 is still pretty good!
  9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – trust and faith
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy – acceptance and need of others
  11. Avengers: Age of Ultron – unchecked power
  12. Ant-Man – taking the right way and not the easy way
  13. Captain America: Civil War – compromise
  14. Doctor Strange – ego
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – family
  16. Spider-Man: Homecoming – responsibility (what else, right?)
  17. Thor: Ragnarok – sacrifice
  18. Black Panther – honor and inclusiveness

“Okay, so that’s all well and good.  But if these films are really that progressive and well-intentioned, why has it taken so long for them to feature minorities and women in title roles?”  Thanks for asking!  That’s actually really easy to answer.  Marvel has always had great faith in its characters and, in their comics, has never felt the need to shy away from featuring anyone in a lead role due to their physical characteristics.  But comic audiences and movie audiences are two very different beasts.

By their nature, moviegoers are a distrustful lot.  They automatically assume most movies aren’t going to be good.  Or they assume that they’ll be filled with stereotypes, tropes, and cliches.  And they’ve been conditioned to believe that, over many decades of seeing blockbuster releases commit one mistake after another.  Yet, the audiences still gravitate to these films if they appear to be entertaining enough and feature material that filmmakers are generally capable of handling well.

Marvel is smart enough to know their audience.  They know that if they had begun with Black Panther, audiences wouldn’t have had any reason to trust that their film would have been any different from others that had come before it.  Many times it has been said that audiences won’t turn out en masse for a film that features a female and/or minority in the lead.  Unfortunately, in the past, that has often been true.  That’s not because of any inherent flaws in the idea of featuring those kinds of characters, but rather due to a combination of past media representation and people’s tendencies to stick to what’s familiar.

So, Marvel started by giving audiences something that looked familiar in Iron Man.  From there, the studio regularly featured strong supporting characters who were non-white males, allowing their audience to see that there’s no reason these characters couldn’t take the lead themselves.  Along the way, the studio focused on putting out one quality film after another, appealing to all four quadrants (young, old, male, female).  What inevitably happened is that they established a trust with the viewer.  Even if any given Marvel Studios film didn’t blow someone away, they could be confident going in to watch a film from the studio that it would at least be good, and often be great (or better).

Now that that trust has been established, Marvel can put out films like Black PantherAnt-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel and people will watch.  Plus, everyone benefits.  Audiences feel comfortable supporting the films because they trust Marvel, Marvel doesn’t waste their time and effort on a high-quality flop, and together everyone can enjoy the ideas and progress that the stories represent.

So, lumping all Marvel Studios films together with an all-or-nothing mentality actually betrays a close-mindedness that Marvel’s films openly resist.  These movies provide a mixture of depth and entertainment that imbues them with a certain prestige.  Are they as deep as films like Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri or The Shawshank Redemption?  Well, no, not typically.  Movies such as those dedicate almost all of their running time to their subtext and messages.  And that’s great.  It makes them different from Marvel movies and other blockbusters.  And, for some, it will make them more enjoyable.  But that doesn’t make them more artistically viable.

Marvel Studios has gone out of its way to provide movie audiences with something new and different, both as the widespread Marvel Cinematic Universe and within each individual film.  In addition to spectacular visual effects, clever and engaging dialogue, suspenseful narratives, and bombastic action scenes, the films offer heart and life lessons that are actually more likely to make a difference by being featured in these films than in others because of the increased exposure.

Black Panther offers up the most crucial message, yet, and to be dismissive of said message due to the film’s source material or cosmetic presentation is insulting to the filmmakers and also costing yourself what might be a memorable and possibly even formative experience.  If you’re one of the few who haven’t hopped aboard the Marvel Cinematic Universe bandwagon, it’s not too late.  The rest of us will be glad to have you. Don’t worry; it wouldn’t mean you can’t enjoy what you normally do. And you would be just the latest on a list of millions that have experienced growth due to Marvel.

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Black Panther Settles It: You Aren’t Too Good For Marvel Studios’ Movies

What Should – and Shouldn’t – be Expected from Marvel after the Disney-Fox Deal

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Thursday, December 14, 2017, was a very busy day and one of the stories responsible for that was announced that morning as Disney and Fox officially closed a deal allowing Disney to own and take control of the majority of Fox’s assets.  One of the driving forces behind the deal (if not the sole motivator from Disney’s perspective) was the X-Men and Fantastic Four properties that Marvel originally licensed to Fox decades ago.  Disney and Marvel have long sought to regain control of these characters for film and television purposes.  Fox didn’t seem willing to sell.  So, Disney bought them.

In the few days since the announcement, people have essentially lost their minds.  Yes, I’m excited at the prospects, too.  I’m at least as excited as you are, I promise you.  But many are getting way ahead of themselves with their expectations and even demands without taking the bigger picture into consideration or pausing for even one moment to consider the implications of the requests they’re making.  So, here’s a list of things that should and should not be expected should the deal go through to the end.  These are not guarantees.  But they are educated guesses based on how the film industry and Marvel/Disney have done business in the past.

  • You SHOULD expect . . . some repurposed villains.

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Pretty much the only Marvel villain that Fox consistently presented effectively was Magneto.  Doctor Doom never attained the level of status, power, regality, and presence that he has always deserved.  Galactus was represented as a nebulous cloud.  Juggernaut was a puny punchline who was taken out by Kitty Pryde.  Even Mystique – who started out well enough – eventually betrayed her own principles in order to take center stage and make full use of Jennifer Lawrence’s brightening star power.  Expect to see these villains at their best and brightest.  People claim that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe has a “villain problem”.  That’s not really the case as the villains aren’t the attraction, nor are they in the titles of the films, but many of Marvel’s best villains were also owned by Fox (or Sony).  That’s no longer an issue.

  • You SHOULD NOT expect . . . any X-Men to appear in the fourth Avengers film.

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Obviously, I’m not working behind the scenes on any of these projects, so I’m not in the know in any way, but logic dictates that automatically assuming that any Fox characters will appear in 2019’s still-untitled Avengers film is quite presumptuous.  For starters, that film is already shooting and the Fox deal is not yet finalized.  It’s being challenged by many politicians as being dangerously close to a monopoly and we seemingly have some time before Disney is in the clear to begin using these characters.  Besides that, however, cramming any of these characters into the final culmination of a storyline that has been running for eleven years (by that point) is hasty and narratively irresponsible.  The fourth Avengers film is a conclusion.  This Fox deal is a beginning.  So many people harshly criticize Warner Brothers for impatiently rushing their DCEU and now those same people turn around and beg Marvel to do a similar thing with the Fox characters.  It might happen, if Marvel suddenly values a quick buck over artistic integrity.  But Marvel isn’t hurting for money and they’ve made so much of it by crafting a long-term plan and sticking to it.  Yes, they inserted Spider-Man into Civil War but they apparently had more lead time on that to plan for it, as well as no issues working out the legalities of it.  It’s always possible that somebody pops up in the fourth Avengers film, but I wouldn’t count on it and, if someone does appear, it will likely only be as a post-credits teaser.

  • You SHOULD expect . . . more of what you like.

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Despite many people’s irrational fears, Disney is not going to drastically alter what you’ve come to expect from these properties.  People freaked out when Disney bought Marvel Comics and those fears amounted to nothing.  Disney has owned Touchstone Pictures since its creation and has had no issues releasing R-rated films under that umbrella with great success.  Disney has many different divisions and many different audiences and is only as successful as they are because they have always understood how to service them all.  I can understand wondering if Deadpool would remain R-rated, as releasing an R-rated MCU film might be a little nerve-wracking if Disney and Marvel are afraid it might change audiences’ perception of the brand.  But Disney CEO Bob Iger has already stated that Disney is open to the idea of allowing it to continue in that vein.  They know what works.  And so they’ll do what works.

  • You SHOULD NOT expect . . . Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.

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Okay, so Jackman himself recently stated that he isn’t coming back to the character, regardless of the Disney-Fox deal, so that should put an end to speculation.  But what should be understood is that, even if he wanted to come back, Marvel shouldn’t bring him back.  Bringing Jackman (or any of the other actors who previously played Marvel characters in Fox films) back would be extremely confusing and would severely muddy the waters of the MCU.  If Jackman were to pop up in an MCU film as Wolverine, that would automatically raise the question as to whether or not all of the previous X-Men films had then been absorbed into the MCU, as well.  And, trust me, Marvel doesn’t want the burden of having to deal with the stories of those movies within their own carefully crafted continuity.  Due to the nature of the character, only Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool could potentially work without resorting some sort of alternate universe explanation.  And that is much too convoluted for general audiences to be worth the time or money.

  • You SHOULD expect . . . more carefully constructed crossovers.

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Marvel has done something that no one had ever done before them (and others have unsuccessfully tried to do after them) by crafting a far-reaching, cross-pollenating Cinematic Universe.  It has been wildly successful both financially and critically.  But as it’s continued, it’s become increasingly difficult to make the films (at least the so-called “mythology” episodes) accessible for those who haven’t seen the others.  Captain America: Civil War, for example, required knowledge of not only the two previous Captain America films, but also the two previous Avengers films, the three Iron Man films, and even Ant-Man in order to have a full understanding of all of the moving parts.  In the future, I would expect more crossovers of the Thor: Ragnarok sort – where only being aware of the guest character and not needing much information about their previous exploits – to be the norm following the fourth Avengers film and the Fox acquisition.  Many are already crying for an Avengers vs. X-Men film.  I’d say there’s a strong likelihood of that happening, but the narrative from the comic book series of the same name would be too complicated.  Any film of this type would likely be more of a one-off story that doesn’t demand a thorough knowledge of umpteen other movies.

  • You SHOULD NOT expect . . . a Fantastic Four movie anytime soon.

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Fox did not do well by the Fantastic Four.  Many don’t realize that the Fantastic Four is responsible for everything we have today in the realm of superheroes.  If not for the resounding success of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four comic book back in 1961, Marvel would not have been launched.  There would have been no Spider-Man, no Hulk, no Avengers, no Daredevil, and no X-Men.  Captain America (created decades earlier by Kirby and Joe Simon) would not have been resurrected.  And DC’s superhero comics would have likely become a fad and faded away.  But for a while, now, the FF haven’t been considered “cool” enough by today’s audiences, lacking the edge of characters like Wolverine and Iron Man.  Fox’s films did nothing to change people’s opinions.  The first film performed well enough – and the second was a step in the right direction creatively – but the third film (which I look at here) was a disaster and Fox has completely damaged the property in the eyes of the general public.  Marvel and Disney know this.  We will unquestionably see the FF again, but Marvel will need to rebuild the FF’s reputation in the way that they’ve done for the Hulk after his poorly-received Ang Lee film.  Marvel is just now building towards relaunching the FF’s comic after it has been MIA for a few years, now.  It will take more time to do the same for the film versions.

  • You SHOULD expect . . . it to be worth the wait.

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For the first time since live action Marvel films have been in production, Marvel themselves has control over their entire library of characters (though Spider-Man is still shared with Sony, distribution rights for the Hulk are still at Universal, production rights for the Fantastic Four are still reportedly with Constantin, and nobody seems to really know what’s happening with Namor).  The possibilities are endless.  And none of it is as easy to do as one would think.  There are both hardcore and general audiences to serve.  Tough decisions need to be made regarding what stories are adapted and what changes need to be made for them to work.  But Marvel has shown that they care about entertaining their fans and that that is their primary goal.  They don’t need to focus on money first because they have learned that the money comes if they deliver the entertainment.  Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and his crew are as excited about this as anyone and they want it all to be great.  So just sit back, put entitlement aside, be patient, and – most of all – be reasonable with your expectations and let’s see what they serve up.  Just be a fan!  Excelsior!

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What Should – and Shouldn’t – be Expected from Marvel after the Disney-Fox Deal

Review – Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

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Here we are, at the most-anticipated movie event of 2017!  Two years ago, J. J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens stampeded into theaters and broke almost every record there is to break (curse you, Avatar!) and now, Rian Johnson (Looper) tries his hand at both writing and directing the next chapter in the preeminent film franchise with Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.

As always, I will be avoiding spoilers and this is one of those films that is tough to discuss while doing so, but I’ll do my best.  Rather than discussing what the film is about (other than the eternally enduring struggle between good and evil), I’ll just state that it picks up where The Force Awakens leaves off.  For some characters, it begins shortly after we last saw them and, for others, it begins immediately after we last saw them.  And I’ll end the storyline discussion with that.

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Johnson accomplishes a lot in the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time, seemingly finding a way to satisfy virtually anyone who plunks down their money to watch it.  Those anticipating sci-fi action sequences will not be disappointed.  There’s not a dull moment to be found anywhere.  You like hand-to-hand combat?  You’ll have to search high and low to find any better.  You like military-style weaponized combat?  Brace yourselves.  Vehicular battles?  Hope these people have insurance.  No matter what your flavor is, there’s plenty to taste, and very little downtime amidst all of the excitement.

The dialogue is sharp and commanding, making it very easy to pay attention.  The story flows well, though it takes longer for the more relevant developments to occur than I would have liked.  But don’t worry; it gets there.  All the groundwork is important and is laid very carefully.  Initially, it feels like half of the film is comprised of a time-killing subplot with no long-term consequences.  I felt myself getting slightly impatient, but it was all for nothing.  The film is also pretty easily the funniest Star Wars film, but when I say that, I mean in terms of quality of humor, not quantity.  The film isn’t an action-comedy such as many of Marvel’s recent films.  But when Johnson works humor into the proceedings to lighten the mood, said humor sticks the landing like Kerri Strug (look it up, kids).

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The Last Jedi sticks to the classic battle between the light and dark sides (it wouldn’t be a true Star Wars film, otherwise) but goes deeper by addressing some thematic gray areas.  This idea was introduced in The Force Awakens and is expounded upon in this new installment with great success.  Life is never simple, and many characters struggle with that as they realize with increasing distress that nothing is as easy as we would all like it to be.  I really appreciate this added layer of complexity and it greatly contributes to the mystery and suspense of the film.

The cast, both old and new, own their roles and deliver to perfection.  Oscar Isaac might be my favorite of the whole bunch as he seems completely at ease and comfortable in his role as Poe Dameron, and thankfully sees extended screen time when compared to The Force Awakens.  John Boyega is as endearing as ever as Finn.  Daisy Ridley continues her ascent to iconic status as Rey.  Adam Driver provides a powerfully layered turn as Kylo Ren that many people will be talking about in all the right circles.  Mark Hamill brings Luke Skywalker back to his roots, adding to the character’s legacy while staying true to what we’ve known about him from the beginning.  And, of course, Carrie Fisher’s reportedly-final performance as General Leia Organa is one to be remembered.  Throw new characters portrayed by Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) and Kelly Marie Tran (XOXO) into the mix and it’s a crowded but effective group of talented performers.

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Ultimately, The Last Jedi is a memorable, powerful, and immensely enjoyable film that earns its spot in Star Wars lore.  It does suffer a bit from Middle Chapter Syndrome, where there’s neither a solid beginning nor end, but that’s almost entirely offset by the new storyline developments and ongoing character development.  This particular Star Wars trilogy has developed a symbiotic relationship with its cast and crew, as they feed off of the mythology and in turn have breathed new life into the property.  The Last Jedi only amplifies that association and the audience benefits from it more than anyone else.  Waiting two years to see the surprises that are in store for the conclusion will be tough, but also worthwhile, I’m sure.  Until then, we can repeatedly enjoy everything that The Last Jedi has to offer, which is more than enough for the next two years and far beyond.

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Review – Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

10 More Films That Every Self-Professed Film Lover Should See

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A long time ago, shortly after the Movie March first began, I did a list of Ten Films Every Self-Professed Movie Lover Should See.  It was well-received, people seemed to enjoy it, and I told myself I would do it again.  Well, it’s taken a while, but I’m back with another installment.  As was the case with the original list, this is not an exhaustive inventory.  It’s not the “top” ten.  There are a whole lot of must-see films in the annals of movie history, and ranking them would be near-impossible.  So, here are ten more, presented in alphabetical order.  And many of you have discovered the March in the time since I posted the first list.  So, if you missed that list, that’s an easy problem to fix!  Just click here!

1. Jaws (1975)

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Jaws was not Steven Spielberg’s first film, but it was the film that put him on the map.  And what true-blue film lover hasn’t seen the movie that kickstarted Spielberg?  The perfect blend of character, dialogue, suspense, and action, Jaws was a summer blockbuster before summer blockbusters were a given occurrence.  Full of dry wit and pulse-pounding thrills, the film single-handedly made an entire generation of people afraid to go into the ocean and, even today, is still celebrated every year by Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.  A trend-setting film that took the entire industry in a new direction and established perhaps the greatest director of all-time, Jaws should not be missed by anyone who wishes to obtain any sort of credibility within the film-lovers’ community.

 

2. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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If you’ve been reading me this whole time and still haven’t seen Kubo and the Two Strings, then I don’t know what to think, other than quality plays no part in your film-viewing choices.  One of the greatest animated films . . . well . . . ever . . . and one of the best films, period, of the last several years, Kubo and the Two Strings is a movie that can be loved by anyone of any age, race, gender, height, weight, relationship status, medical background, education level, and maybe even voting history.  The film is beautiful, unique, entertaining, funny, exciting, touching, and bafflingly artistic.  How Laika Studios made this film through stop-motion animation, I may never fully understand.  It’s everything a film should strive to be and, whereas many films struggle just to achieve the basic tenets of quality filmmaking, Kubo manages to overachieve on all levels.

 

3. Modern Times (1936)

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In the late-1920s, the motion picture industry was changing in great leaps and bounds.  “Talkies” were emerging, thanks to new technological revolutions, and film studios and audiences, everywhere, were ecstatic at the possibilities.  But not everyone felt that way.  Many silent film stars were terrified.  A large number of them – for various reasons unique onto each one, individually – feared that they would be unable to make the transition.  Many also saw the technological advances as an assault against the art form.  Charlie Chaplin was one of these.  Modern Times was Chaplin’s final silent film.  By 1936, the writing was on the wall.  In the film, Chaplin rails against machines, technology, and society’s reliance upon all of it.  He mocks them and vents his frustration at his long-standing, legendary career apparently coming to an end.  It’s all done through creative and genuinely funny slapstick comedy, but the sadness is palpable as Chaplin says what he assumes to be his goodbye to his audience and his career.  Ironically, his next film The Great Dictator, complete with speech and sound, in which he lampoons Adolf Hitler, was his greatest success.  But, following that, he fell off the radar and little was seen of Chaplin in the movies.  Many – including myself – consider Modern Times to be his best work.

4. The Prestige (2006)

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My second-favorite Christopher Nolan film, The Prestige is a master-class in storytelling.  Centering around a pair of rival stage magicians, the film itself is one giant illusion, as Nolan manipulates, tricks, and toys with the audience from the beginning all the way through every reveal.  And there are multiple reveals, making The Prestige one of the most unpredictable films I’ve ever seen.  Throw in the best performance of Christian Bale’s career, top turns by Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, and Rebecca Hall, and the brain-breaking ethical implications tossed in towards the end without warning and The Prestige amounts to an immensely satisfying viewing experience, as well as an excellent example to follow for aspiring filmmakers.

 

5. Psycho (1960)

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Frequently heralded as “The Master of Suspense”, Alfred Hitchcock established horror-suspense as a viable and respectable genre within the film community.  He was responsible for many beloved films, and numerous discussions have been had regarding which of them are his true masterpiece.  Psycho is very much in that discussion and it is unquestionably his best-known work.  So, if you haven’t seen any Hitchcock, you might as well start here.  Psycho has persisted throughout the decades with many sequels, a 1998 shot-for-shot remake by Gus Van Sant, and a very popular (and excellent) television show detailing Norman Bates’s origins called Bates Motel that recently concluded (and was ultimately revealed to be of an alternate continuity).  Psycho was the first truly successful slasher film and is a must-see to fully understand the origins of the genre.

 

6. Pulp Fiction (1994)

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Much in the same way that Jaws put Spielberg on the map even though it wasn’t his first film, the same can be said for Pulp Fiction and Quentin Tarantino.  Though Tarantino’s previous film Reservoir Dogs was successful and highly-regarded (and still is), it was Pulp Fiction that demanded the attention of audiences from all walks of life.  Nominated for seven Academy Awards – including Best Picture – Pulp Fiction threw all caution to the wind and captivated audiences with its refusal to play to anyone but itself.  Hard-nosed, brutal, wild, and boundary-pushing, the film infected the popular zeitgeist, revived John Travolta’s career, and is still referenced with regularity, 23 years later.  Unless you want to be the only one who doesn’t know about a Royale with cheese, you need to see Pulp Fiction.

 

7. Rocky (1976)

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One of my favorite movies of all-time, John G. Avildsen’s Rocky provides the perfect blueprint for a rousing, inspirational sports movie (or movie of any genre, really).  Loved Rudy?  Thank Rocky.  Big Mighty Ducks fan?  Thank Rocky.  Really, nobody did this kind of sports movie better.  The film (for which you can find my #ThrowbackThursday review here) put forth the idea that victory is subjective and that we should all have our own individualized goals.  Once those are attained, we can move on to the next.  And, of course, Rocky inspires us to never give up.  If you’re having a down day, or just need a little push to get you moving in life, make sure you’ve seen Rocky.

 

8. The Sound of Music (1965)

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The Sound of Music is one of the most popular and beloved films in history.  It’s the third-highest domestic grosser of all-time (adjusted for inflation, which I still argue makes no difference.  That’s another column I’ve had in mind for a very long time.  I’ll get to it, eventually.) and firmly established Julia Andrews as a worldwide sensation, following her success as Mary Poppins.  The songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein are iconic and people who have never even seen the film know many of the lyrics.  Andrews charms and dazzles for the entire three-hour runtime and the entire movie is one of love and hope.  You aren’t too good or too macho for The Sound of Music.  And no film-lover should be avoiding it!

 

9. Star Wars (1977)

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1977’s George Lucas phenomenon Star Wars has obviously gone on to spawn what is probably the most popular intellectual property that has ever existed.  This particular film is now more commonly referred to as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, but back in 1977, things were much simpler.  This film, as you likely know, changed everything.  A grand science-fiction epic, it captured the imagination of audiences and movie executives around the world and made all things seem possible.  True escapism entertainment, the engrossing mythology and characters sucked the viewer in and everyone wanted more.  Anyone avoiding Star Wars after all of this time needs to just get over themselves.  It may or may not be your favorite movie (it’s not mine) and it may or may not convert you into a diehard Star Wars fan (which would say I’m not, though I’m a dedicated and above-average fan), but everyone needs to see this one in order to be a part of the conversation and to understand how everyone realized what big-budget summer filmmaking is capable of and why it became part of our yearly moviegoing routine.

 

10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

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Groundbreaking in so many ways, Who Framed Roger Rabbit shocked the world in 1988 with its surprisingly adult themes (my grandmother was shocked at the use of the word “hell” in a cartoon!) and mind-blowing technological advances.  Seamlessly combining live-action and animation, the film broke new ground that eventually led to the type of film that we take for granted, today, where a computerized Hulk or Caesar can wage war with on-set humans.  The film also established that animation need not exclusively target children with Eddie Valiant’s (Bob Hoskins) drinking habits, Baby Herman’s (Lou Hirsch) foul mouth, and Jessica Rabbit’s (Kathleen Turner) vivacious figure and penchant for seductive games of Patty Cake.  Throw in Christopher Lloyd’s terrifying Judge Doom and director Robert Zemeckis successfully thrust upon the industry a forward-thinking, masterpiece of a mystery (featuring Charles Fleischer’s now-iconic Roger Rabbit and an equally memorable supporting cast) to which we all owe our gratitude to this very day.

That’s a wrap on this second edition of 10 Films That Every Self-Professed Film Lover Should See!  I hope you enjoyed it and will choose to see all of these films that you already haven’t (and re-watch the ones you have)!  When I feel so inclined, I’ll be back with another installment!  Thanks for reading!

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10 More Films That Every Self-Professed Film Lover Should See

Get Over Yourselves, America! The Movies Don’t Need You, Anymore!

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.

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“Dependence upon American box office is going extinct!”

 

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.

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“I’ll use the tiny ship and sail overseas, where they still love me.”

 

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.

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A reason for a picture of Emilia Clarke.

 

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.

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“Um . . . I’m over here.”

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.

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“I see living dead people.”

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.

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Get Over Yourselves, America! The Movies Don’t Need You, Anymore!

A Plea to Warner Brothers and DC – Stop Jerking Us Around!

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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)
  • Aquaman (2018)
  • Shazam (2019)
  • Justice League Part Two (2019)
  • Cyborg (2020)
  • 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.

Wait, what?

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 before BvS.  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.

Okay, fine.  But then, in February of 2017, The Hollywood Reporter reports that director Chris McKay is developing a Nightwing movie for WB.  Okay.  Okay, sure, I just bet that’s happening.

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.

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A Plea to Warner Brothers and DC – Stop Jerking Us Around!

How I was C*ckblocked by ROGUE ONE’s Real Darth Vader (or “Another Kind of Star Wars Story”)

 

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Vader appears ominously as he prepares to destroy my chance at happiness.

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.

“Nah, it’s okay,” I replied.   “I broke it, I’ll buy it.”

“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!”

“WHAT?!”

“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.

The Number
The name and number – now forever unutilized.

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.

How I was C*ckblocked by ROGUE ONE’s Real Darth Vader (or “Another Kind of Star Wars Story”)