Tag Archives: cinema

The (Uncertain) Future Of Movie Theaters

Many of us have fond memories of going to the movies. Whether it’s the first time you saw “Jurassic Park” and “Avengers” or the first time you got frisky with your significant other on a date, the movie-going experience has always had a certain charm to it. They’re such an indelible part of modern popular culture that it’s hard to envision modern life without them.

Then, a global pandemic hit and suddenly, we have to envision a lot of things we’ve never contemplated before. That includes the place movie theaters have in our culture and society.

Now, I’m not among the doomsayers claiming that movie theaters are doomed, although I can’t fault anyone for thinking that. The news surrounding the movie industry has been grim on an unprecedented level. As someone who often organizes his summer around which movies to see and when, it’s undeniably dire on so many levels.

However, I feel like there’s room for something better to come out of this for theaters. There’s just too much uncertainty to surmise what it is at the moment. I don’t feel that qualified to speculate. Many people much smarter than me already have. I’m bringing this up now because last weekend gave me a taste of what that future might entail.

For me, that future involves a lot less nights when I go to the movies and more nights of me renting a movie at home. That’s what I attempted last weekend. Specifically, I rented the movie “Bloodshot” on Saturday night. While the movie wasn’t exactly a huge blockbuster when it came out, I was still curious about it. Being a fan of comic book movies in general, I wanted to give it a chance.

I’m glad I did. I enjoyed the movie and not just because it was better than the reviews claimed. I enjoyed it because I got to craft my own movie-going experience. I ordered some pizza, bought a six-pack of beer, and had some skittles on the side. I basically created my own mini-movie theater in my living room and I had a genuinely pleasant time.

It also helped that it was much cheaper than going to a theater. To rent Bloodshot,” I only paid $6. That’s half the price of a regular movie ticket on a weekend. The price of pizza and snacks was considerably less, as well. I probably saved money by just renting the movie and, given the state of the pandemic-hit economy, I imagine there are many more people out there looking to save where they can.

It has me re-thinking how I’ll see movies, even after theaters open up again. My experience with Bloodshot” has me re-considering which movies I’ll see in theaters and which I’ll rent. I’ll still see big blockbuster movies like “Black Widow” and “New Mutants” in the theaters, but I’m going to be less inclined to see other movies in that setting. I just can’t justify the cost at this point.

That situation could change. I suspect that movie theaters will have to adapt their place in the movie/media complex. I don’t think it can survive solely on the success of big budget blockbusters. I also don’t think that’s good for the industry because it makes movies that bomb much more damaging to studios and theaters, alike. That means less risks, less innovation, and more generic movies made solely to turn a profit.

As much as I love those kinds of movies, there has to be room for innovative movies like “The Blair Witch Project” or “Clerks.” There also has to be a place for the bigger budget movies that Netflix has released. If you need proof of how good those movies can be, check out “Extraction.” It’s a movie that could’ve been another generic action movie in theaters, but works even better as a streaming exclusive.

In the same way Netflix is getting into the big budget movie business, some theaters are expanding beyond movies. Last year, the theater I live nearby played the Super Bowl and several major pay-per-view fights. Only a handful of other theaters did the same. I have a feeling more and more theaters will opt for something like that, if only to get more foot traffic.

The challenge is balancing all these dynamics in a world where people are less inclined to go to theaters and pay bloated ticket prices. I believe there is a way to do that. It’s just not clear what that is. I think there will still be movie theaters in a post-pandemic economy. They just won’t look or operate like they did in 2019.

It’s exciting, but distressing.

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Filed under Current Events, movies, superhero movies

How “Megamind” Subverts Expectations The Right Way (And Why Recent Attempts Keep Failing)

Every now and then, a narrative trend comes along that I neither care for nor understand. I get why many trends catch on. I’ve even been caught up in a few. I remember when stories about asteroid impacts became popular, as well as romance stories that relied on best friends falling in love. Some lasted longer than others. Some burn out. I think “Friends” alone killed the whole friends-falling-in-love-gimmick.

However, certain trends seem to catch on for all the wrong reasons. I’m not just referring to the gimmicky tropes of every sitcom attempting to rip off “Seinfeld,” either. These are narratives that attempt to troll the audience in hopes of a bigger reaction, as though that can somehow take the place of a compelling story.

Lately, the trend that I’ve found particularly frustrating is the idea of subverting expectations. It’s become a major buzzword in recent years, but not for good reasons. It became a big deal after the fan reaction to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and only intensified with the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

Now, I don’t want to get into extensive discussions about those emotionally charged subjects. I’ll let the fan bases continue to debate that in whatever way they see fit. Instead, I want to take a moment to look at this trend, note how it can be done well, and highlight why recent attempts are misguided and counterproductive.

While subverting expectations sounds cunning on paper, it’s one of those concepts that’s difficult to make work. The concept is simple. You take an audience’s expectations about a story, build up some narrative tension, and then go in an unexpected direction that changes and enhances the impact of that story.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. When it works, it’s amazing. When it fails, it’s downright toxic to itself. I would argue that neither Star Wars: The Last Jedi nor the final season of Game of Thrones” succeeded in that effort. However, one movie did succeed in this effort and it did so back in 2010, long before this trend even began.

That movie is “Megamind,” a film I’ve praised before for how it parodies the superhero genre. There’s a lot more I can say about this underrated gem, but this is one element that I feel is more relevant now than it was when the movie first came out. To date, I’ve yet to see a movie subvert expectations as well as this one.

The way Megamind” goes about this is not at all subtle, but it’s still powerful. It’s in the premise of the movie. It asks what happens when the evil genius supervillain actually defeats the handsome, square-jawed superhero? What do they do afterwards? Why did they pursue this goal in the first place?

The first 15 minutes of the movie do an excellent job of setting up the basic, generic premise of every superhero narrative since Superman. Metro Man is the hero. That’s how he carries himself. That’s how others see him. That’s how he’s perceived. Conversely, Megamind is the villain. That’s how everyone sees him. The prison warden himself says it before the opening title screen. He’ll always be a villain.

Everything is in place for a traditional hero-versus-villain struggle. Old concepts like justice, hero worship, and public perception come into play. Then, in the first real battle we see between Megamind and Metro Man, the unthinkable happens. Megamind, despite his grandiose boasting and casual bumbling, defeats Metro Man.

It’s not framed as some M. Knight Shamalyan twist. It’s not an attempt to shock the audience. It’s not some minor plot point, either. In fact, the rest of the movie is built around this sudden subversion of standard superhero stories. Every event, choice, and character moment stems directly from this subversion. It’s not just a minor element of the plot. It is the plot.

What makes it work is how this subversion helps tell a very different kind of superhero story. It’s not just about flipping the script for the sake of novelty. It makes a case that superhero narratives are capable of doing much more than simply having the hero save the day from the villain.

Throughout the movie, Megamind finds himself playing a part in every tried and true trope we’ve come to expect in a superhero movie. He starts off being a villain because that’s what he assumes he’s meant to be. He starts questioning that assumption because by defeating Metro Man, he finds himself without a greater purpose. In pursuing that purpose, he find out that those assumptions had serious flaws.

Such assumptions weren’t inherently right or wrong. It was a matter of digging a little deeper into the concept of heroes and villains, finding out along the way that the role he thought was right for him wasn’t the one he ultimately wanted. By the end, he still dresses like a villain. He’s still not nearly as handsome or powerful as Metro Man. However, he still chooses to become Metro City’s greatest hero.

This subversion of expectation works because it’s used to build a story rather than just tweak a few details. Moments like the revelation about Rey’s parents being nobodies or Arya Stark killing the Night King had only minor shock value, but they didn’t really factor into the larger plot.

If someone other than Arya had killed the Night King, then it wouldn’t have changed much in terms of how the last few episodes of “Game of Thrones” panned out.

If Rey’s parents turned out to be someone important in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it wouldn’t have substantially altered how the events that followed played out. Rey still wouldn’t have joined Kylo.

Ultimately, those subversions just felt like trolling. These details that people thought were important just turned out to be tricks or ploys meant to get a reaction. It comes off as both dishonest and insincere. They might not have been intended as such, but given the fan reactions, I can understand that sentiment to some extent.

You thought all those prophecies about Jon Snow and the Night King meant something? Well, that turned out to be a big waste of time.

You thought Rey’s parents would impact the course of the movie? Well, that was just a complete waste of time, at least until “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” changed that.

At times, it felt like the story was tempting people to get engaged and then slapped them in the face the second the plot went in a different direction. As a result, it didn’t feel at all surprising or engaging. It just felt insulting.

Contrast that with “Megamind.” At no point does the plot attempt to demean the audience or anyone who enjoys the traditional superhero narrative. The subversion is in the synopsis. That same subversion is used to build a larger story that fleshes out characters who started out in generic roles, but ultimately embraced a different role.

This shift never feels forced or contrived. It’s not done just to get a cheap thrill or to stand out. At its core, Megamind” uses the concept of subverting expectations to tell a better story than it could’ve told if it stuck to the traditional superhero narrative. That’s why it works.

Unfortunately, that’s also why other recent attempts keep failing. Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, a comic book, or a video game, the concept has been used in a misguided effort to do something different. Subverting expectations has become synonymous, to some extent, with doing something new and bold. The importance of telling a compelling, coherent story is never more than secondary.

I get the importance of trying new things, especially when that genre has been played out in so many forms. However, doing so does not mean taking audience expectations and defying them in a way that feels blatant. At best, it just makes the story confusing. It’s just different for the sake of being different. At worst, it insults the audience and makes them feel denigrated for enjoying that narrative in the first place.

It can be done and done well. “Megamind” is proof of that. It doesn’t just subvert expectations for the superhero genre. It dares to build a story around it and even have a little fun with it along the way. It doesn’t at all take away from the genre it parodies. It just uses it as a foundation to tell a unique story.

No matter how many expectations you subvert, there’s no substitute for a quality story. Megamind” gives us that and the undeniable charm of Will Ferrell. That’s what makes it so enjoyable.

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Filed under Game of Thrones, movies, outrage culture, rants, Star Wars, television

Why “Last Action Hero” Was Almost A Great Movie

Some movies and TV shows just fail to find an audience when they initially come out. Some are even ahead of their time in terms of concepts, themes, and storytelling. It’s how movies like “The Princess Bride,” “The Big Lebowski,” or “Community” go onto become cult classics, despite not getting much acclaim when they came out.

I have a soft spot for those movies too. Everyone has at least one movie that they feel strongly about in a way that doesn’t quite match the popular sentiment surrounding it. It’s not always the case that you love a movie that everyone else hates, although that does happen. In some cases, you just have that one movie or show that confounds you with so many mixed feelings.

A part of you loves it on a personal level.

Another part of you hates it for certain flaws you can’t overlook.

Overall, you’re just not sure what to make of it. For me, this perfectly sums up my feelings on “Last Action Hero.”

First off, if you’ve never seen this movie, I recommend that you check it out. It’s a movie that feels very out of place in an era dominated by superhero movies, Pixar movies, and Oscar bait. This movie was a sloppy convergence of trends in the mid to late 90s. It was an era in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the height of his power and every month brought at least one “Die Hardrip-off.

As a concept, it was still groundbreaking for its time. Last Action Hero” built a story around a movie-loving kid named Danny getting pulled into a generic, over-the-top Schwarzenegger action flick through the use of a magic movie ticket. Action, comedy, and hi-jinks ensues. It has plenty of objectively great moments that demonstrate why Schwarzenegger movies are so entertaining.

However, at the end of the day, it’s not a great movie.

I say that as someone who watched this movie multiple times in the late 90s. Even then, I understood it had a shady reputation, even among fans of Schwarzenegger. I even remember the jokes some people made about how bad it was. While I don’t think the movie is that bad, it’s still not great. It could’ve been great, but it fell short in critical areas.

Even as a kid, I saw the flaws. For one, it’s too long. The movie suffers from a lot of bloat and side-plots. At times, it drags, especially towards the end. It tries to balance itself out with more action and comedy, but it doesn’t work. If anything, it makes things worse.

In addition to the length, it’s a movie that tries too hard to do too many things. On paper, it has two compelling concepts. One involves a kid actually venturing into an action movie and experiencing what it’s like first-hand. The other involves someone finding out that they’re a fictional character within a fictional world and having an existential crisis about it.

These are both quality concepts that could make for great stories. However, Last Action Hero” fails at handling both because it tries so hard to blend them together. If it had stuck with just one and pursued it to the utmost, then it would’ve been a very different movie. I also think it would’ve been a better movie. By trying to use one plot to supplement the other, they just end up falling apart in the end.

For its time, it was a bold idea. It went out of its way to parody some of the overplayed clichés that dominated every other action movie at the time, including ones starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think if the movie came out today, it would actually work better. Audiences respond more to that kind of meta-commentary than they did in the 1990s, as the success ofDeadpool” can attest.

Even if it did come out today or just five years ago, I still think it would fail to find an audience. It’s just too messy and disorganized. It has everything else going for it, from the plot to the acting to the concept to the effects. It just doesn’t blend together.

That’s a shame because it’s still a fun movie. I often find myself watching the first half-hour and enjoying it. Right around the halfway point, though, I usually turn it off because that’s when it starts to drag.

Ultimately, “Last Action Hero” is one of those movies that could’ve been something really special. It still has the feel of a cult classic. It has aged somewhat better than many other action movies of the era. It was almost a great movie. It could’ve been a great movie. It just didn’t pan out.

It still has a special place in my heart and it always will. For that, it’s good enough in my book.

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Filed under movies, philosophy, rants, superhero movies

Why The “Terminator” Franchise Has Faltered (And How To Revive It)

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Some franchises just aren’t built to last. It’s a sad fact of life. Sometimes, the things we love just cannot grow and blossom. Not every franchise can be like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, every effort to mirror the success of the MCU has either failed or come up short. For some, it just doesn’t have resources to grow to that extent. In some cases, trying to force a franchise into something it’s not will only hurt it even more.

The latest franchise to learn this the hard way is the “Terminator.” Believe me when I say I take no joy in saying that. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for all things “Terminator.” The original 1984 film was one of the first R-rated movies that my parents let me watch. I remember being scared, but thrilled at the same time. As a kid, that was a major step up from traditional Disney movies.

Then, I saw “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and the highest of bars was set. Like the first movie, it thrilled and amazed me to no end. At the same time, it struck many emotional chords, especially at the end. I still get choked up to this day when I hear the T-800 tell John, “I know now why you cry, but it is something I can never do.” There’s a good reason why many rank this among the greatest movies of all time.

A big part of what made that movie great was how it completed the story. What began with Sarah Connor’s journey in the first film ended beautifully in the second. It was as complete a story as it could’ve been. To make a sequel after that would’ve been like trying to improve on the Mona Lisa. While the prospect of sequels still interested me, I never got the sense that they could improve on what the first two movies did.

That didn’t stop Hollywood from trying multiple times. While some of those movies had their moments, they never came close to improving on the first two. If anything, each sequel did more and more damage to the franchise. It showed in both the critical reception and the box office. Now, with “Terminator: Dark Fate” an outright flop, the state of this franchise is dire.

Some are already saying it’s dead. I don’t agree with that. It’s in critical condition. That’s for certain. However, I don’t think it’s doomed to the archives of cinematic history. I believe it’s worth taking a step back to understand why the franchise has faltered so badly. I also believe that there is a way to revive it for a new generation.

The reasons the franchise declined are many. Ask a dozen people who love the franchise as much as I do and chances are you’ll get several dozen answers from each of them. They usually boil down to reasons like this.

The ending of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was too perfect and final to improve upon.

The sequels muddied and messed up the timeline more than it already was.

The sequels focused too much on action and not enough on the horror of the first movie or the drama of the second.

The sequels didn’t utilize enough of the original cast, relying heavily on the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The sequels undermined or undercut the impact of the first two movies.

The sequels were too focused on setting up a trilogy rather than making one solid movie.

The threats in the sequels were too bland and predictable, relying too much on newer Terminators fighting older Terminators.

Personally, I think every one of these reasons has merit, but some have more than others. When I re-watch “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and compare it to the sequels, I can clearly see the difference from a cinematic and storytelling standpoint. That movie was made to complete the story that James Cameron started telling with the first. Every other sequel was made to set up more sequels.

From there, every other issue compounded. The focus of the movies was less about having a genuine impact and more about teasing a future movie. That only works if the first movie is successful and that didn’t happen with any of the sequels after “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” They attempted to set up a larger story, but nobody cared about that story anymore.

Then, “Terminator: Dark Fate” committed the ultimate sin, in my opinion, when it effectively rendered the first story pointless for the sake of a new one. For me, that ensured that this would be the first Terminator sequel I didn’t see in the theaters. I doubt I’ll even see it when it comes out on cable. What this movie did to John Connors and the over-arching narrative of the franchise just cannot be overlooked.

It’s so bad that I won’t even bother with a spoiler warning. “Terminator: Dark Fate” kills John within the first two minutes of the movie. In one cold, callous sequence, this character who fought so hard with his mother to save the future is rendered pointless. The only difference he made is that the name of the future robot overlords changed. Instead of Skynet, they got Legion. That’s it.

Not Pictured: Anything remotely appealing.

It would be akin to having Thanos come back to life, murder the Avengers, and wipe out half the life in the universe all over again in the first movie after “Avengers: Endgame.” Everything and everyone they fought to save is rendered pointless. Then, that same movie tries to tell a story about a new savior who nobody has any attachment to and will always be defined by being John’s replacement.

There’s nothing about that story that has any appeal, either to a fan of the Terminator franchise or any franchise, for that matter. On top of that, “Terminator: Dark Fate” went heavy on mixing gender politics with the movie. That’s not just an indirect interpretation. The director, Tim Miller, flat out admitted it in interviews before the movie came out.

I don’t want to get too caught up in that aspect of the movie, but I do think it was a contributing factor to the movie’s shortcomings. We’ve seen it happen with other movies before. When a movie is too focused on enduring its female characters pass the Bechdel Test, it rarely puts enough effort into making them likable or endearing. It also obscures the overall plot by making it predictable.

There are many other flaws to highlight in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” as well as plenty more in the movies that came before it. Rather than belabor those, I want to focus on how this franchise rebuilds itself from here. The failures of the sequels have damaged it significantly. There’s no amount of time travel or retroactive changes that can save the story that “Terminator: Dark Fate” tried to set up.

That said, this franchise does have a few things going for it. It’s a known brand that people recognize. When most people hear the word “Terminator,” they usually understand it as a reference to the movies. Even if it’s not as strong a brand as it used to be, it still carries weight and sometimes, that’s all it needs.

The first step to rebuilding it involves ending the futile efforts to build, expand, or somehow improve on the story of Sarah and John Connor. Their story ended perfectly in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Most Terminator fans agree with that and anything that would somehow undermine their legacy is only going to cause more damage.

The next step is to start a new timeline, but one that doesn’t focus on saving the future leader of the resistance or ensuring that Judgement Day occurs. That story has been done to death. For Terminator to succeed, it needs to show that it can do more. In fact, I believe “Terminator: Dark Fate” actually has one sub-plot that might be the key to the franchise’s renewal and survival.

In that movie, the Terminator that killed John, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, secretly built a human life for itself after its mission was completed. It walked around as a human, met a woman with a son from a previous marriage, and formed a family. If the movie had any plot worthy of intrigue, it was this. Sadly, it was poorly developed and mostly rendered pointless by the end.

It’s a concept that might resonate more today than it could have in 1984. When the first Terminator movie came out, machines and robots weren’t that smart. They were defined by how inhuman, cold, and calculating they were. In recent years, that has changed. Movies like “Ex Machina” and “Wall-E” have built compelling stories about robots that have human traits, including emotions.

It’s something that the Terminator franchise has flirted with before. Part of what made the ending of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” so dramatic and impactful was the emotional attachment that John developed for the T-800. Even the T-800 showed signs that he’d formed a bond. It made that final sacrifice feel so powerful.

Even “Terminator: Genysis” explored the idea. It had another T-800 form a fatherly bond with a young Sarah Connor, so much so that she called him Pops. While the movie didn’t flesh out the concept as much as it could’ve, there were moments that highlighted the extent of this bond. I strongly believed that if this movie had emphasized this concept over making John Connor evil, it would’ve succeeded.

Rather than hint or imply it, I believe a future Terminator movie should go all in on this idea of a killing machine developing emotional attachments to humans. It’s something that is more relevant today than it was in 1984 or 1991. We already interact more intimately with technology and we’ve even given our technology a personality. I say that’s a story that the Terminator can build upon.

Imagine the following scenario.

It’s the distant future. Machines have taken over. Humanity has been all but enslaved. There are only pockets of resistance. To combat this, the central machine intelligence, Skynet, creates Terminators with the sole purpose of killing the remaining humans.

However, humans prove crafty. They outwit and outsmart the early models. In order to become better killers, new Terminators are created that can mimic, study, and process emotions. Ideally, it could infiltrate human resistance camps, earn their trust, and terminate them appropriately. They would be the ultimate killers.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough data. Humans are too scattered, weak, and desperate. Skynet doesn’t have enough data to give these new Terminators the capabilities it needs. It calculates that it would take too long and require too many resources to compile the data in the present. As a result, it decides to send a model back in time before machines took over.

The model’s mission is simple. It must integrate into human society, compile data, preserve it, and transmit it back to Skynet by preserving it within disks. If it’s identity as a machine is uncovered by a human, its primary protocol is to terminate the human.

The first model is sent back. It arrives in a bustling city that would one day be reduced to ruin. It finds clothes, has an identity, and begins integration. However, just as it’s starting to establish itself, a human finds out it’s a machine. Its protocols are activated, but then something unexpected happens. It doesn’t terminate the human.

Instead of fear, the human develops intrigue. It connects with the Terminator. They start to form a bond. Eventually, the Terminator’s systems for mimicking emotions turn into real emotions. It develops a love for humanity and decides to defy Skynet. That decision ripples into the future and Skynet tries to send other Terminators back to destroy it.

As a Terminator fan, I would love to see a movie like this. It could work with a male or female Terminator. It could also work with a male or female protagonist. Like the T-800 in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” it could even become part of a family, giving it something to fight for and protect. Instead of fighting to protect a savior, the Terminator fights to change the fate of both itself and humanity.

This is just my idea, though. I’d love to hear with other Terminator fans think. I’d also love to hear how they would revitalize this franchise. I believe there is room for this franchise in the current cultural landscape. As machines and advanced artificial intelligence continue to progress, I suspect it’ll become even more relevant.

Like Sarah Connor once said, there is no fate, but what we make for ourselves. That applies to our future as a species. It also applies to this franchise.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, gender issues, media issues, movies, outrage culture, technology

Shazam! Review: A Simple Formula For Maximum Fun

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When a particular genre becomes over-saturated and overdone, it’s tempting to try and reinvent the concept in hopes of striking a new chord. It’s especially tempting when so many others have risen the bar to such an insane extent that success can only be measured in billions instead of millions.

It would’ve been easy for a movie like “Shazam” to give into such temptation. With the recent success of “Aquaman” and “Avengers Endgame” set to break all sorts of box office records, it seems like this movie has to do something extreme, just to stand out. How else would it succeed in such a crowded market in a golden age of superhero movies?

That was my greatest concern before I saw “Shazam.” As much as I loved the trailer, I was worried that this movie would try so hard to stand out that it would overlook the part of actually being a fun cinematic experience. That sort of oversight has been plaguing the DC Extended Universe since “Man of Steel.”

This picture sums up the issues nicely.

Well, having seen the movie, I’m happy to say that none of those concerns were founded. In fact, I’m elated to report that “Shazam” is another big win for DC Comics and superhero movies, as a whole. However, it didn’t win because it reinvented the genre or did something radically different. It won because it followed the basic formula for quality superhero movies and had fun along the way.

It helps that the core appeal of Shazam, as a character and superhero, is that it approaches heroics with a childlike playfulness. Billy Batson, the alter ego of the titular hero, is not some jaded adult like Batman. He’s not even a boy scout idealist like Superman. He’s just a kid and one who got dealt a bad hand, for that matter. Being both an orphan and a troublemaker, he sees the adult world through very different eyes.

That’s a novel perspective, to some extent. Every other superhero movie, even going back to the era of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” has framed the idea through an adult lens. It always starts out as something simple. An individual gets superpowers, they start carrying out simple acts of heroism, and those acts eventually get complicated, as often happens with adult issues.

With a character like Billy, things never get that complicated. Again, he’s a kid. Even in his heroic form, he sees conflict with a childlike simplicity and “Shazam” captures that simplicity perfectly. The movie doesn’t deviate much from the details and themes of the source material. Concepts like the Rock of Eternity and the Seven Enemies of Man are present and accurately portrayed.

Such details may not matter to those unfamiliar with the comics, but such accuracy is largely a bonus. What really makes this movie work is how it follows Billy’s journey and not just the one he undergoes as a hero. His evolution when he’s not a magically-endowed superhero is arguably the most meaningful aspect of the story.

When we first meet Billy, it’s hard to discern whether he has the spirit of a hero. He’s no upstanding boy scout. In fact, he’s very much a troublemaker who’s willing to thumb his nose at police, break the rules when it benefits him, and run away from anyone who tries to help him. However, he never comes close to crossing that might send him down a darker path.

It’s that trait that sets him apart from his villainous counterpart, Dr. Sivana. While he’s no Thanos, he demonstrates that he’s a lot like Billy in a few key aspects. He’s given a chance to become a hero, but is unable to refuse the temptation that often comes with immense power. That failure haunts him and pushes him down a darker path.

For a time, it seems as though Billy could walk a similar path. When he first gets his powers, he reacts in ways that most would expect of a 14-year-old boy. He tries to buy beer. He tries to make money. He even ventures into a strip club. It’s hilarious and cute, but it also establishes the perfect tone for a movie that avoids complicating the standard superhero narrative.

Within that narrative, there’s a hero who makes choices and learns from his mistakes. There’s also a villain who makes choices and refuses to learn from them. When they eventually clash, it’s a flashy spectacle with simple, understandable stakes. It’s no Battle of Wakanda, but it doesn’t have to be.

The look of someone who DIDN’T get to work with Josh Brolin.

From the moment he first gets his powers to the final showdown with Dr. Sivana, Billy develops into his own hero, but never loses his childlike mentality. He’s not forced to grow up too fast, nor does he have to abandon the civilian life he’s trying to establish. Whereas being Bruce Wayne is often an inconvenience for Batman, being Billy Batson is necessary for Shazam.

This shows in the seamless characterization provided by Asher Angel, who plays young Billy, and Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam. At no point does either manifestation feel like a different character. They both wield the same childlike charisma as they navigate their superhero journey. The same lovability that made Levi so great in shows like “Chuck” help him and Angel bring out the best in Billy Batson.

When the movie begins, it’s not clear that Billy has what it takes to be a competent hero. Trying to determine his worth is like trying to determine if some random 14-year-old will one day play in the NFL. The odds are against them, but the potential is still there. By the time the credits roll, the message is clear. Billy has the spirit that Shazam was looking for and you can’t help but root for him.

At its core, “Shazam” checks all the right boxes for the classic hero’s journey. Billy Batson is perfectly poised to take that journey and not just because he’s one of many orphans who become superheroes. The movie doesn’t try to subvert these tried and true tropes. If anything, it embraces them and dares to have a little fun along the way.

It’s easy to share in that fun. The humor is exactly what you would expect of a movie that involves 14-year-olds getting superpowers. It’s serious when it needs to be, but never too serious. Given the grim and gritty settings of other DC Extended Universe movies, it’s a breath of fresh air that the superhero genre badly needed.

It’s not without its flaws. Some details of Billy’s life are underdeveloped and glossed over. There were also inconsistencies with Dr. Sivana as well, but none were egregious to the point where they derailed the movie. It simply stuck to a simple formula, mixed in a few twists along the way, and made the most of what it had to work with.

If I had to score “Shazam,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It didn’t reinvent superhero movies or raise the bar. It was simply a fun, entertaining movie that gave a character with little star power a chance to shine. It even managed to accomplish all this without trying too hard to make him like Batman. For a DC Comics movie, that alone is a major accomplishment.

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Apes, CGI, And The (Potentially Sexy) Future Of Hollywood

Trends in Hollywood are like fad diets. There’s always one emerging or fading at any given time. In the same way low-fat diets fade while low-carb diets emerge, the glut of “Die Hard” rip-offs fade while superhero movies emerge.

However, every now and then, a trend comes along that really shakes up the industry in ways that don’t fade. Some are more obvious than others. Movies with color, sound, and better picture quality are here to stay. Even the most douche-bag hipster in he world probably won’t claim that old crappy black-and-white movies are somehow superior to the style that lets us see the sweat on Megan Fox’s face.

Chief among those trends is the use of CGI, which is effectively Hollywood’s ultimate cheat code when facing a scene considered unfilmable. Sometimes, that’s necessary. How else are you going to film Dr. Manhattan’s junk in a movie like “Watchmen?”

There are countless movies that never would’ve been made if it weren’t for CGI. There’s no amount of costume design or camera tricks that could’ve brought “Transformers,” “Iron Man,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” to life. Say what you will about movies that involve transforming trucks and talking raccoons. They still thrilled audiences and made Hollywood boatloads of money.

However, CGI is still treated like dings on a fancy car. It doesn’t prevent the car from being fancy, but it is seen as a taint of sorts. Look at any poorly-reviewed movie these days and chances are, critics and fans will bitch about the overuse of CGI. It doesn’t matter that it’s the kind of visual spectacle that was impossible before 1990. People still roll their eyes whenever they see it used too often.

There’s a valid reason for that, though. While it may make some of us feel old, the CGI we see in movies today has been around for decades. Going all the way back to the groundbreaking effects we saw in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” there has been an entire generation born into a world that has become numb to CGI.

It used to be that these kinds of special effects inspired the kind of awe and wonder usually reserved for fireworks, the Grand Canyon, and Pamela Anderson’s tits. That’s because they were so new and had to be used sparingly, due to the cost. Now, it’s such a common practice that many movies contain scenes that audiences don’t realize are CGI.

Common or not, CGI still has the capacity to evoke that same awe and wonder. “Titanic” and “Avatar” are the top-grossing movies of all time and for good reason. They are enchanting, visually stunning spectacles, complete with a compelling story that often involves some sexy moments. Yes, I’m counting the kinky, ponytail stuff of the Na’vi as one such moment.

Despite these massive successes, CGI still has a trashy reputation. Movies that use too much of it and aren’t directed by James Cameron are seen as cop-outs, of sorts. They couldn’t tell a great story that would get enough asses in movie theaters, so they resort to fancy visuals. It’s like trying to put chocolate sauce on chopped liver. There’s only so much anyone can do to hide the truth.

Then, the new round of “Planet of the Apes” movies came along. Even though they’re entering a world crowded by superhero movies and Pixar films, they found a way to leave a mark and it’s one that might have much larger implications.

Earlier this year, I listed all the reasons why quality erotica/romance movies are next to impossible. I also cited animation as a possible solution to these issues. While nobody in Hollywood seems eager to explore those sexy possibilities, the success of “Planet of the Apes” may be the precursor of sorts to a new era of CGI.

Before anyone starts thinking too much about kinky monkey sex, take a step back and look at what “Planet of the Apes” accomplished. It’s main character, Caesar, is entirely CGI. Actor, Andy Serkis, provided motion capture, but the character itself is a product of CGI and not the clunky ape costumes that made the old movies so cheesy.

This was a huge risk on the part of the studio, creating a character entirely through CGI. With the exception of Pixar, Hollywood has a poor track-record of making quality characters with nothing but CGI. Just go to any executive and say the name Jar Jar Binks. Then, watch their eyes glaze over in horror and shame.

In a sense, Caesar is the anti-Jar Jar. He’s entirely CGI, but he’s also a complex, multi-dimensional character over the course of multiple films. He has personality, depth, and heart. On top of that, he doesn’t look like a compilation of poorly-rendered clip art from a late 90s PC game. The studio actually made a concerted effort to make these CGI characters feel real, detailed, and human.

That effort has paid off with both audiences and critics alike. The latest entry in the franchise, “War for the Planet of the Apes,” has been a critical and commercial success by most measures. It further proved that the approach its predecessor made was not a fluke.

That’s all the excuse Hollywood ever needs to invest lavishly in a new trend. It did so with superhero movies, which led to the rise of the multi-billion dollar behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As successful as that has been, the trends in CGI may have even greater potential.

In a sense, you can look at the advances in CGI in the same way you look at the difference between the first PlayStation gaming system and the latest model of the PlayStation 4. It effectively documents just how far we’ve come, in terms of raw processing power.

That power is only going to keep increasing, thanks to exceedingly fast growth rate of computer technology. We’re not that far off from technology that can render characters so well that it’s impossible to tell whether they’re real or not.

Even before “War for the Planet of the Apes” came out, it took another major step, albeit an ominous one. In 2016’s “Star Wars: Rogue One,” the story required that Grand Moff Tarkin make an appearance. The problem was that the actor who originally played him, Peter Cushing, passed away two decades ago.

That didn’t turn out to be much of a problem. Thanks to CGI and a stand-in actor, the movie was able to bring Grand Moff Tarkin back to life. That would’ve been next to impossible to pull off six years ago. With modern CGI, it’s not just possible. It’s setting a precedent.

A composite of Peter Cushing playing Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars and a CGI imitation of his character.

It’s a precedent that already has some people worried. It’s one thing to get emotionally invested in an adorable character from a Pixar movie, as there are many. What happens, though, when CGI can create a human actor so realistic, so advanced, and so believable that most audiences can’t tell the difference?

The success of “Planet of the Apes” and “Star Wars: Rogue One” may be a tipping point, of sorts. It shows that audiences can accept CGI characters and will fork over obscene amounts of money to see them. That has huge implications for Hollywood, but even bigger implications for actors and actresses.

A CGI character that’s sufficiently realistic doesn’t need the same treatment as a skilled actor. A CGI character doesn’t age, get fat, or get caught sleeping with the babysitter while their wife is out of town. Given how some actors command salaries in the tens of millions, Hollywood has a lot of incentive to develop CGI characters.

For the time being, flesh and blood actors will still make up most Hollywood’s manpower. However, the next generation of audiences may not care much for that distinction. “Planet of the Apes” may have already laid the foundation. Once CGI characters become more functional and efficient, then all bets are off.

Suddenly, concepts and stories considered unfilmable are now viable. That includes movies that feature erotica/romance. Animation may act as a stop-gap, of sorts. At some point, though, someone is going to use advances in CGI to make erotica. It’s an unwritten law. If it can be used for sex, then it will be used for sex.

This may mean that both porn stars and actors won’t get as much work in the future. It also means that the many barriers for erotica/romance no longer apply. We could see a scenario where one of my overtly sexy novels, such as “The Final Communion” or “Skin Deep,” can be made into movies cheaply, efficiently, and with plenty of sex appeal.

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While I doubt I’ll live long enough to ever see one of my novels turn into a movie, I take comfort in the knowledge that the technology to make them possible is coming. The demand for media, as well as the cost of making it, is rising fast. CGI may very well be the only way to meet that demand.

There will still be a place for flesh and blood actors. Let’s face it, though. CGI characters will always have more potential sex appeal. It doesn’t matter how skilled an actress is. A CGI character can make her breasts bigger with the click of a mouse. There’s just no way they can compete.

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