Tag Archives: movie industry

How HBO Max May Prompt Me To Get A Bigger TV

TCL 6-Series (55R625, 65R625) QLED TV Review - Reviewed

In general, I try to budget my money carefully when it comes to big purchases. By big, I don’t mean things you’d splurge on like fancy shoes, custom suits, jewelry, or a lap dance at a strip club. Those are more akin to casual indulgences. There’s nothing wrong with those in moderation.

For me, a single guy who has a mortgage and his own place, major purchases tend to involve large appliances and utility upgrades. Those upgrades can be expensive. One of the biggest purchases I had to make after buying my place was a new HVAC system. That purchase cost thousands. I had to taper some indulgences, as a result.

It was still worth doing. I feel like those purchases have paid for themselves many times over, in terms of quality of life. That’s how I gauge every major purchase. If it has an overall positive effect on quality of life, then it’s worth budgeting for. I learned in college that sometimes you need to endure a few nights of Ramen noodles before you can enjoy a good steak dinner.

This brings me to what could be my next major purchase. Earlier this year, I had a few things in mind that I considered saving for. My plan was to re-evaluate my priorities around the summer before I made a choice. Well, after watching Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” and “Godzilla vs. Kong,” those plans may have changed.

These past few weeks, I’ve documented how watching these movies as they debut on HBO Max has changed the way I’ve consumed new movies. I think it’s safe to say that my approach to viewing new movies has changed in a big way. Now, when a new movie is set to come out, I’ll have to weigh whether I want to see it in a theater or create my own experience at home.

I’ll be facing that choice quite a bit this year. Warner Brothers and HBO Max have a very promising slate of movies. Some of these were movies I planned on seeing in theaters. Now, after “Justice League” and “Godzilla vs. Kong,” I’m not so sure. To complicate the choice even more, I’m no considering a major upgrade to my living room in the form of a new TV.

At the moment, I have a 55-inch HDTV that has served me well for about five years. It’s not the highest end TV, but it gets the job done. It has seen me through multiple NFL seasons and plenty superhero movie marathons. However, I know I’ll have to upgrade at some point. With more and more content coming out in 4K, the incentives are there and growing.

However, given my recent efforts to re-create the theater experience in my living room, those incentives increased considerably. After watching “Godzilla vs. Kong,” I really felt the limits of my current TV. It still looks great and thanks to the sound bar I bought a couple years ago, the sound felt very similar to that of a movie theater.

The only thing that didn’t quite match that experience was the screen itself. It was good, but not great. For that reason, a newer, larger TV might very well be the kind of major purchase that pays off big time, in terms of quality of life. It may ultimately change even more how I determine whether I’ll see a new movie in a theater or at home.

Before this year, a new TV was a low priority for me. It’s not that I don’t want a bigger, better TV in general. I just didn’t see much value, given how few shows or events are broadcast in 4K. That may be changing, but it just wasn’t happening fast enough to justify the cost.

For me, the tipping point was whether NFL games would be broadcast in 4K. Thus far, that hasn’t happened. I was waiting until that announcement became official before I got serious about a new TV. Now, I don’t think sports are the tipping point anymore. HBO Max has suddenly changed the whole value structure for a new TV.

It’s exciting. I love the idea of being able to watch new movies on HBO Max or some other streaming service on a bigger, better TV. Whenever the NFL or baseball joins the 4K party, then that’ll only add to the value.

There’s still a real chance that I might find there’s a limit to recreating the movie experience in my living room. Once the novelty wears off, I might find there’s just now re-creating that theater or IMAX experience. No matter what I do to my living room, it just can’t measure up. I’m prepared to accept that outcome, should that be the case.

On the other hand, there’s also a chance I might recreate that experience a bit too well. If I get a good enough TV with a good enough picture, then going to the movies might end up being a last resort instead of an option. If I find that the experience in my living room is more enjoyable than any movie theater, then that will be my first choice for new movies.

That raises the stakes even more for this new TV. For once, it’s not just about seeking a better way to watch football games. It’s about turning my living room into something that can recreate that cinematic experience in the best possible way.

I’ll certainly keep everyone updated on this effort. As of this writing, I haven’t made any purchases, nor have I set a date for making one. For now, I’m just focusing on budgeting my money appropriately so that when the time comes, I’ll be ready to take that plunge. If anyone has any tips or insights into creating that special theatrical experience in their living room, please share it in the comments. Like any major purchase, I value the expertise and experiences of others. If all goes well, then I hope to be watching “The Matrix 4” on an awesome new TV by Christmas this year.

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Why I Don’t Miss Blockbuster Video (For The Most Part)

Everyone has something they’re nostalgic for. There’s nothing wrong with that, for the most part. There are some people nostalgic for the kind of things that require massive social regression that would do immense harm to every marginalized minority you can think of. That kind of nostalgia isn’t healthy. It’s just for entitled assholes.

For me, personally, my nostalgia is pretty limited. I have a soft spot for old school Saturday morning cartoons. They made waking up early on the weekends fun. I’m also nostalgic for a time when the only people trying to cancel stuff were uptight conservative Christians who opposed anything fun, new, or sexy

It almost seems quaint now. I think many of us still long for the days when everything didn’t have a political agenda or bias. It’s getting to a point where it’s hard to remember a time when politics wasn’t so damn tribal. I miss those days too.

However, I don’t want to focus too much on the things I miss. Instead, I want to highlight something that I honestly don’t miss for the most part, but it’s something a lot of people have fond memories over.

That something is Blockbuster video.

Now, most people over the age of 30 remember Blockbuster video. I certainly remember it. In fact, it was once a regular ritual for my dad to take us all to Blockbuster on Friday evening to rent a movie. At one point, I lived within walking distance of a Blockbuster. Those were good times.

Those times eventually came to an end. Blockbuster’s rise and fall from its position as an institution of the movie business is relatively well-documented. It’s also well-known that there was a point where Blockbuster could’ve bought Netflix for just $50 million, but chose not to.

That choice has since gone down in infamy as one of the dumbest decisions in the history of business. To understand just how dumb it was, Netflix as of this writing is worth over $30 billion. Take a moment to appreciate just how much history changed with that fateful choice.

At the same time, there are people out there still nostalgic for Blockbuster. Recently, there was even a mini-documentary on the last Blockbuster video in operation in Bend, Oregon. Fittingly enough, that documentary is on Netflix.

Having watched that documentary recently, I found myself thinking back to those times I mentioned earlier. I also thought about how the stories that people in the documentary told about going to Blockbuster or video stores, in general. They remembered it so fondly. When they visited the last Blockbuster, they looked downright enamored.

I can’t say I blame them. It probably took them back to a time in their lives that they remember fondly. I can certainly appreciate that.

At the same time, I can’t avoid one simple fact.

I really don’t miss Blockbuster that much.

That’s not to denigrate the people who do or the experiences I had in my youth. When I look back on Blockbuster in its totality, both in terms of the good times and the not-so-good times, I just don’t miss it. As a hub for movies, it had its place at a certain point in time. That time has long past and I’d rather not go back.

As much as I enjoyed browsing movie racks and chatting it up with the people who worked at Blockbuster, I can’t overlook the shortcomings. There were plenty of times in which I really wanted to see a particular movie, but there were just no copies available. That happened constantly with certain shows I followed closely. It got to a point where I just stopped trying.

Then, there were the late fees.

I promise that nobody misses the late fees.

I recall more than one occasion where my parents scolded me and my siblings for not returning a movie on time. Even without inflation, those fees really added up. They were a constant point of frustration and I really don’t miss having to deal with them.

There were still parts of the Blockbuster experience that I enjoyed. The stores themselves were great to be in. My brother and I spent a lot of time losing ourselves in that store. While it was nice to just come across some obscure movie or game every now and then, I feel like that was the exception rather than the norm.

Since I got Netflix, I find it a lot easier to come across some obscure movie I’ve never seen or heard of. Last Halloween, I spent an entire afternoon just browsing the Horror section of Netflix and found several movies that I probably couldn’t have found in a Blockbuster. It was a great experience.

I don’t deny that Netflix is a lot more impersonal. There’s none of that social aspect you get by visiting a Blockbuster store. That certainly had its moments, but I feel like other social spaces have more than compensated, at least for me.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Blockbuster for making Friday nights more fun with my family. I’ll always remember that distinct smell of buttered popcorn that every Blockbuster seemed to have. Beyond that, though, I’m not all that nostalgic for it. Blockbuster had a good run. It just didn’t adapt to changing times. That being said, just imagine how different the world would be if they had bought Netflix.

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It’s Official: After Watching “Godzilla Vs. Kong” My Movie Watching Experience Has Changed

Sometimes, an experience you think is life-changing just turns out to be a fluke. You have one remarkable experience and you think it’s the start of a trend. However, it just turns out to be one experience and that’s it. Nothing ultimately changes.

I’ve had more than a few of those in my life. I thought playing “Final Fantasy X” would make me a final fantasy for life after the experience that game gave me. That turned out to be a one-time thing. It’s not out of disappointment. That’s just how things played out.

For that same reason, I wasn’t entirely sure if the experience I had watching Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” was one of those one-time experiences. Last week, I wrote about how it may have changed how I watched new movies. I did so knowing that this was a unique movie fraught with unique circumstances. I didn’t know if it was the start of something more.

To find out, I used this past weekend as a secondary test, of sorts. I knew “Godzilla Vs. Kong” was coming out on HBO Max, just like “Justice League.” I made it a point to approach that movie the same way I approached “Justice League.” By that, I mean I turned my living room into a make-shift movie theater to maximize the experience.

I ordered some pizza.

I got a six-pack of beer.

I closed the blinds, dimmed the lights, and prepared my couch accordingly.

Now, I need to disclose that “Godzilla Vs. Kong” was not a movie I was particularly excited about. Compared to Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” it’s the kind of movie I wouldn’t see in theaters on opening night. I’d usually wait a couple weeks until the price of a ticket came down and I could pick my own seat.

It still had all the makings of the kind of movie best enjoyed in theaters. It’s a big-time monster movie full of spectacle and explosions. That’s how it’s billed and, without getting too heavily into spoilers, I can confirm that “Godzilla Vs. Kong” delivers that spectacle in abundance.

As a result, I enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as “Justice League,” but I still enjoyed the experience. Beyond the enjoyment, though, I confirmed something else. That experience I had with “Justice League” was not a fluke.

I can now say with relative confidence that my approach to consuming movies has changed. This experience of me turning my living room into my own personal movie theater is something I really enjoy. It’s something I want to make part of my movie-consuming experience.

By that, I don’t mean I’ll never set foot in a movie theater again. I still have every intention of doing that relatively soon, especially after I get a COVID-19 vaccine. I just don’t think I’ll ever do it as often as I once did.

It helps that “Godzilla Vs. Kong” came out on HBO Max. Last year, the powers that be decided they would release their new movies in both the theaters and on HBO Max. It’s a decision that upset quite a few people and organizations, but in terms of the bigger picture for the industry, it’s a real game changer.

Like Netflix joining the fray when Blockbuster was at its zenith, HBO Max may very well change how movies are consumed. Other studios are starting to buy in as well. Recently, Disney announced it would do a similar release with “Black Widow.” However, their release would be different in that streaming it from home will cost extra.

It’s a different approach, but one that’s following the same trend. Now, consumers have a choice in how hey consume new movies. They can either go to a movie theater or try to create their own experience at home. It’s a choice that probably wouldn’t have occurred had it not been for the pandemic that nearly destroyed the whole industry.

Be that as it may, I welcome that choice. Personally, I think the industry needs this to happen. Movie theaters and movie studios alike can’t keep clinging to a model that began before the creation of streaming media, 4K televisions, and Grubhub. At some point, they have to adapt to changing consumer habits. Now, they can’t avoid it.

I’ve already made some plans for how I’ll consume movies this summer. Even if all restrictions are lifted and everything goes back to normal, relatively speaking, I don’t think I’ll revert to my pre-pandemic approach to movies. I’ll start weighing my options.

For a movie like “Mortal Kombat” or “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” I’ll probably watch them at home on HBO Max. If I happen to get a date, I’ll probably take her to the theater. Since I can’t assume that’ll happen, my default will be using HBO Max.

With “Black Widow,” I’m a bit less certain. For now, I’m leaning towards seeing that in theaters. It’s not because of the experience. It’s more a matter of cost. If I want to watch that movie at home like I did with “Justice League,” I’ll have to pay extra. Now, for a movie I really want to see, I’m willing to do that. However, I have my limits.

I think $30 just to stream the movie from home is a bit excessive. It amounts to more than I would spend on a ticket and snacks at a movie theater. Even if the price was just $20, I’d still probably see it in theaters. Like many Marvel fans, I’ve been anxious to see this movie for over a year and I want to support it. If that means paying extra at a theater, I’ll do that.

Then again, if I could stream it for free on Disney+ the same way I streamed “WandaVision,” then I might have second thoughts. Given that I’m a lifelong Marvel fan, I might still go to the theater, just to show my support for the franchise. Since that’s not an option, I just don’t know.

For now, those are my plans and they’re always subject to change. I just know that, moving forward, my approach to experiencing new movies is very different. I suspect others are going through something similar. Even after this pandemic has passed, I expect certain movie-going habits to change permanently.

What will this mean for the industry, as a whole?

That, I don’t know. All I know now is that what happened last weekend with “Justice League” was not a fluke and “Godzilla Vs. Kong” proved it. Now, I’m contemplating how I’ll continue adapting my movie-watching experience. For that, I may need to invest in a bigger TV. In the meantime, I’d like to know what everyone else thinks. What has been your experience thus far with respect to consuming movies? Has it changed due to the pandemic? Do you expect it to change even more? Let me know in the comments.

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How Watching Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” (May Have) Changed How I Watch Movies

Throughout the pandemic-fueled horrors of 2020, I speculated on multiple occasions how movie theaters may never fully recover. I don’t doubt for a second the movie industry, as a whole, will adapt to changing markets and trends. However, the movie-going experience, as we know it, was suddenly in doubt.

I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. Many people far smarter than me have expressed concerns and made equally dire predictions. How things ultimately play out remains to be seen. The 2021 summer movie season will be a major test for theaters, as a whole.

However, there are already signs that the industry has changed forever. It started with “Trolls World Tour” last spring, which ditched theaters together and debuted online exclusively, turning a healthy profit in the process. Then, Warner Brothers escalated things even further by saying all their 2021 movies will release simultaneously within theaters and on HBO Max.

On top of that, Disney is also trying their hand in simultaneous release. They announced that they’ll be releasing the long-delayed “Black Widow” both in theaters and on Disney-plus. While you’ll have to pay extra to see it on Disney-plus, the result is the same. Movie theaters are suddenly less relevant in the movie-viewing experience.

It’s hard to overstate just how big a deal this is for the industry.

It’s also hard to overstate just how big an impact the pandemic has had on the movie industry, as we know it.

It may very well be the case that “Avengers Endgame” was the last true blockbuster. We may never see a movie gross that kind of money ever again. That, alone has many implications.

However, I don’t want to focus too much on those just yet. Instead, I want to talk about my own movie-going habits and how they have changed recently. Like so many others, I was very excited to watch Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” on HBO Max. I built my entire Saturday night around watching it.

There’s a lot I can say about this movie. If you want a full review, you can check the YouTube video I made for it right here.

Beyond my excitement and reaction to that movie, I felt an impact beyond the general experience of seeing a movie that so many had fought to get released. This really didn’t come off as just me settling in on a Saturday night and binging a movie from a random streaming service, which I’ve done plenty of times before.

My experience with “Justice League” was different.

I feel like it may affect other movie-going experiences in the future.

To explain why, I also need to explain what I did to prepare to watch that movie. I didn’t treat it like watching any other movie on HBO Max or any other streaming service. Instead, I went out of my way to recreate the movie theater experience.

I closed the blinds to my windows.

I dimmed the lights in my living room.

I even ordered a pizza and got a six pack of beer. That’s not typically what I get when I go to a movie in the theaters, but since this was a four-hour movie and I wasn’t bound by theater rules, I wanted to make the most of it.

After all, this movie wasn’t ever coming out in theaters. If I wanted that experience, I had to recreate it myself. It was not exactly a perfect duplicate. I don’t live in a fancy house that I could turn into a make-shift movie theater. I haven’t sold enough novels yet.

Despite those limited resources, the experience I created for “Justice League” was both effective and personal. It allowed me to basically consume a new blockbuster movie in my own unique way. While I didn’t expect that effort to have too great an impact, I can say not that it definitely changed the experience.

This wasn’t just me re-watching a favorite movie of mine.

This wasn’t me watching a movie that I saw in theaters.

This was me creating my own experience for a new release.

When all was said and done, I found myself planning to do it again. I may ultimately do it with all HBO Max movies that come out this year. That doesn’t mean I won’t see some in theaters, but watching Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” showed me what a more personal movie-watching experience could be.

It also left me somewhat conflicted on how I’ll see “Black Widow” when it comes out. Before I saw “Justice League,” I had every intention of watching it in the theaters, like I’ve done with every Marvel movie since “Iron Man.” Now, I’m not so sure.

Do I go to a movie theater, buy my favorite refreshments, and watch it like I used to watch all new movies?

Do I try to recreate what I did with “Justice League” and consume movies that way?

I’m honestly torn. I still enjoy going to theaters. I don’t exactly have a big screen TV that comes close to matching the screens at a movie theater. I also don’t have a 3-D TV that can take advantage of that feature. However, I can’t sneak a six-pack of beer into a theater or pause the movie when I need to take a bathroom break.

There are positives and negatives for both. I’ll certainly attempt to refine my movie-seeing experience at home with future HBO releases. In doing so, that may ultimately make watching a movie from home more preferable to watching it in a theater. As a result, me going to a movie theater might become a rarity.

It may be the case that Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” was a one-time thing that I’ll never recreate. If not, then I’m very curious to see if others had a similar experience. I’m also curious to see how this will play out as the world emerges from this pandemic and the movie industry seeks to rebuild. If you had a similar experience Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” or something similar, please share it in the comments. I have a feeling the way people consume movies and media is bound to change considerably in the coming years and not just because of the pandemic.

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“Wonder Woman: 1984” To Be Released In Theaters AND HBO Max On Christmas: Why This Is A BIG Deal

More often than not, we don’t realize when a fateful decision is a big deal that has ramifications for years to come. Those kinds of moments are rare, but powerful. I doubt the first person to use a cell phone knew just how big a deal that breakthrough was when they made that first call.

Other decisions are more obvious. You know from the get-go that this is one of those choices that might not be surprising, but you get the sense it’ll be one of those moments that you can cite as a major turning point years from now.

This Christmas, we may just experience one of those moments because that’s the day “Wonder Woman 1984” is set to come out, both in theaters and on streaming. I don’t think it’s a stretch to claim this decision could change movies, entertainment, and media for years to come.

It finally became official. After being originally set for release in June 2020, Warner Brothers decided that, rather than simply wait for this once-in-a-century pandemic to end, they’re going to release “Wonder Woman 1984” in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. This is what The Hollywood Reporter had to say.

THR: ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Heading to HBO Max, Theaters Dec. 25

With a second wave of COVID-19 impacting many parts of the globe, Wonder Woman 1984 is changing course yet again.

The tentpole is all but giving up on a traditional theatrical release and will instead bow in whatever cinemas remain open Dec. 25 as well as stream on HBO Max in the U.S. for one month beginning on Christmas Day. In international markets where HBO Max is not available, the film starts rolling out Dec. 16.

“At some point you have to choose to share any love and joy you have to give, over everything else,” director Patty Jenkins said in a statement Wednesday. “We love our movie as we love our fans, so we truly hope that our film brings a little bit of joy and reprieve to all of you this holiday season.”

Jenkins urged audiences to watch the $200 million tentpole in theaters where it was safe to do so, and on HBO Max where it is not. In a note echoing Jenkins, star Gal Gadot added, “It wasn’t an easy decision and we never thought we’d have to hold on to the release for such a long time but COVID rocked all of our worlds.”

Growing the number of HBO Max customers is of huge import to TimeWarner, even if it means giving up on potential box office ticket sales that Wonder Woman 1984 would have earned had it been pushed to sometime in 2021. The hope is that a high-profile Christmas Day title such as the superhero sequel will lure new subscribers (HBO Max is pricier than most other streamers, at $15.99 a month).

That’s just the basics. “Wonder Woman 1984” is still coming out in theaters, as it was always meant to. However, with theaters on the brink of collapse in wake of the pandemic, Warner Brothers is opting to gamble on the future of streaming media. They’re dropping this big name blockbuster that cost $200 million to make on their signature streaming service, HBO Max.

Logistically speaking, it’s understandable. The news surrounding the pandemic has been bleak, even by 2020 standards. Even though a vaccine seems imminent, it might be too late to save the movie industry as we know it. The damage has been done. That industry must change. This may very well be the biggest change we’ve seen since in decades.

This is not some forgettable movie like “Trolls World Tourskipping theaters for streaming. That could’ve been written off as a calculated risk for a movie that was never going to make much at the box office to begin with. This is a tentpole blockbuster from a studio’s biggest franchise skipping over what many see as the most critical part of a movie’s life.

The first “Wonder Woman” movie made north of $800 million on a budget of $150 million during its theatrical run. That’s a lot of profit, but may be a profit that even a blockbuster movie just can’t make anymore in a post-pandemic world. Even after the pandemic ends, who’s to say that the theater industry will just go back to the way it used to be?

Now, it seems Warner Brothers are prepared to leveraging their future on their HBO Max streaming service. “Wonder Woman 1984” is, by far, their biggest chip and most valuable asset. It, more than any other movie they had in the can, was most likely to get their studios’ profits going again once the pandemic waned.

Instead, this movie that has so many excited and eager, myself include, is going to be Warner Brothers’ boldest gamble at turning HBO Max into a viable Netflix competitor. They’re not just looking to do for HBO Max what “The Mandaloriandid for Disney Plus. They want to go a step further and make streaming the new avenue for big title blockbusters.

It’s impossible to overstate how big a shift this is for the movie industry. Whereas “Trolls World Tour” on streaming was a sign, releasing “Wonder Woman 1984” on the same day it comes out in theaters is a monumental shift.

It’s essentially sacrificing potential profits at the box office for a new host of subscribers to HBO Max. Will that ultimately make more money in the long run? It’s possible.

After all, those who buy a movie ticket to see “Wonder Woman 1984” are only going to pay for that ticket. From that purchase, Warner Brothers will only see a fraction. If a bunch of people subscribe to HBO Max, they may ultimately pay much more to the studio through its monthly $16 fee.

Even if most just buy an HBO MAX subscription for a single month and cancel, it’s very likely that plenty will stay subscribed, keep paying, and keep coming back for more wonderful blockbusters. In the long run, “Wonder Woman 1984might make more money for its studio overlord than it ever would have in the theaters.

That’s still a big if. So much of a movies profits is still tied to its box office. Nobody quite knows how this new model of releasing a movie will work. Streaming a movie on the same day it comes out in theaters may help widen the audience, but without those profits, the idea of footing the bill for a $200 million movie might be less tenable.

Would that mean that big budget blockbusters like “Wonder Woman 1984” became less rare?

Would that mean that theaters as a whole would diminish both in numbers and in importance for the industry?

Would that mean that blockbusters will ultimately have to cater to a streaming audience instead of a casual movie-goer?

It’s hard to say. Nobody knows. I certainly don’t know. I doubt anyone knows, but most can already sense that this could be the start of a much larger trend. Releasing “Wonder Woman 1984” on streaming and in theaters could ultimately be the point of no return for the movie industry.

This could be the future of entertainment and movies. Theaters are no longer the center of all things film and there’s no going back. Whether other blockbusters follow suit remains to be seen. I have a feeling Disney will be watching how “Wonder Woman 1984” performs closely, given how it opted to delay “Black Widow” until May 2021.

If it proves profitable in the long run, I suspect that Disney will follow suit and so will every other studio. At that point, the movie industry will have permanently changed and we’ll be able to cite this announcement as the moment it began.

There’s only one certainty at this point. On Christmas this year, I’ll be curled up on my couch to watch “Wonder Woman 1984” through my current HBO MAX subscription. Whatever monumental changes this movie inspires in the industry, it’s still Wonder Woman. I still intend to partake in her wonder, no matter what form it takes.

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Why I Think Movie Theaters Will Never (Fully) Recover

The COVID-19 global pandemic is going to have many long-term effects. There’s no way around it. This pandemic will leave lasting scars that will fester for generations. If I ever have kids or grandkids, I’ll likely share harrowing stories about how we survived 2020. I’m sure they’ll have plenty of questions with respect to social distancing, mask wearing, and Zoom calls.

As it stands, those stories aren’t yet complete. We, as a society, are still trying to navigate our way through it. Even if a vaccine is close, it’s going to be a while before we can say with certainty that the pandemic is over. Like many, I eagerly await that day. I’d love to be able to go to a bar, a water park, or a ball game again.

At the same time, we have to face another difficult truth. Some of the things we took for granted before the pandemic are never coming back, at least to the extent we remember. I suspect things like handshakes, poor hygiene, and thoroughly cleaning subway cars only once every 100 years will never be a formality, at least to some extent. Entire industries will have to re-think how they do business form here on out.

Among those many common activities we once took for granted, I believe there’s one in particular that will change more than most. It involves the once-simple act of going to a movie theater. Just a year ago, this activity/industry maintained a special place in our culture. Big summer blockbusters weren’t just an expected market trend. They were a cultural tradition.

Now, having gone an entire summer without those blockbusters, I suspect this experience will never return to its former glory.

By that, I don’t mean big-budget movies will diminish in importance. There’s definitely still a place for those in the near and distant future. The insatiable demand for new content on streaming services will ensure that. However, the long-standing traditions of going to a movie theater to celebrate one of those blockbusters has probably been permanently diminished.

I say that as someone who both loves going to the movies and laments any loss of these blockbuster traditions. I’m the kind of guy who gets in line early for every Marvel movie and has many fond memories of spending an afternoon or evening in a movie theater. Believe me. I don’t want that tradition to end or decline. I just don’t see how it can ever recover from this.

That’s not to say movie theaters will disappear, like video rental stores. I think that, over the next several years, they’re just not going to be as critical a part of the movie industry. We’ve already seen signs of that over the course of this pandemic.

I think the biggest turning point when movies like “Trolls: World Tour,” “Scoob,” and “Mulan” skipped theaters entirely, going straight to video-on-demand. Even if it was done out of necessity, I think it’s simply accelerating a trend that had started before the pandemic. More and more, movies were just skipping theaters entirely and going straight to streaming services.

These weren’t the kind of straight-to-DVD movies that were so bad they couldn’t get into theaters. These were quality movies that have the potential to become solid franchises. There were also cases in which a movie skipping theaters actually turned a profit. It’s not a huge profit on the levels of an Avengers movie, but it is a profit. That’s all any industry innovation needs to get going.

It won’t happen all at once.

It won’t upend the entire movie industry overnight.

It won’t even be obvious until years after we’re past the point of no return.

I still believe it’ll happen. Years from now, a big blockbuster movie coming out in theaters won’t be the kind of seasonal, cultural event it once was. Movies like “Avengers: Endgame” and any “Star Wars” movie will still make headlines, but they’ll be the exceptions rather than the industry standards.

Movie theaters, themselves, will probably look very different. The theater I live near, which I’ve been going to for years, probably won’t look the same. It’ll most likely look more like an IMAX theater, which provides an experience that isn’t easily duplicated within a typical living room.

Only a handful of movies can complement that experience. Low budget, high-concept movies probably won’t come out anymore, except for a select number of theaters, like drafthouses. They’ll go straight to streaming services. That might even work better for long movies like “The Irishman.”

That might open the door to a new type of movie experience for a new generation of movie-goers. I have a feeling that kids who lived through this pandemic, whose entertainment consumption came primarily through streaming media, will see that as their new normal. The whole concept of movie theaters might seem as strange to them as land lines or pagers.

I don’t claim to know what form the movie industry will take several years from now. I don’t even know what kind of world we’ll have six months from now. I question the honesty of anyone who claims otherwise. The only real certainty is uncertainty. We don’t know what kind of world will emerge when this pandemic is over.

Some things will return, but in a different form.

Some things will never be the same.

As much as I love going to the movies, I believe that experience will just be one of the many casualties of this horrible pandemic.

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Hollywood To Use More CGI For Sex Scenes: A Trend With Bigger (And Sexier) Implications

A while back, I speculated that improvements to computer technology would change how erotica romance was portrayed in mainstream movies. When I wrote that piece, I expected it to be a slow process. As long as there were actors and actresses willing to get naked for celebrity, I had a feeling it would be a while before this sort of thing became common.

Then, a global pandemic happened. Suddenly, Hollywood had to re-examine and re-imagine how it went about the sexy side of its business.

Now, this doesn’t count as prophetic on my part. It’s more a necessity. Hollywood still wants to make money. Audiences still want to see beautiful people hump on screen. Regardless of the current state of CGI, the market will deliver. A recent report from The Sun, indicated that studios were planning to use more CGI for sexy scenes, if only to limit the spread of the disease.

The Decider did another write-up of this story. It was light on the details, but it summed up the situation nicely.

Decider: Hollywood Prepares for CGI Sex Scenes to Prevent Coronavirus Transmission

The novel coronavirus pandemic may completely change the way sex scenes are filmed in Hollywood. According to The Sun, when California studios reopen on June 12, producers will have to rethink “close contact moments” in order to avoid transmission of COVID-19 between actors. A 22-page document from the film editors’ association reveals that these moments, including sex scenes and other intimate moments, must be “either rewritten, abandoned, or [produced using] CGI” in the months ahead. All that’s to say: get ready to see more digitally-edited butts.

Beyond the titillating details, I suspect this is one move that will have far-reaching impacts. Long after this pandemic has passed, this might end up being the catalyst that began a much larger trend in media. It won’t just change how Hollywood handles sex scenes. It could change the entire media landscape.

There was already a strong incentive to cut back on sexy scenes. Between the impact of the anti-harassment movement and growing concerns about depictions of sex in media, there’s a growing risk that sex scenes will attract all the wrong attention. Studios, being businesses, are aware of that and will look for an alternative.

CGI sex scenes are now the default. On top of that, there’s a strong incentive to improve the technology. Given the money these studios have at their disposal, as well as their corporate backers, there will be improvements. It may look cheesy at first, but that will change. Graphics technology is already nearing hyper-real levels.

Eventually, it’ll get to a point where CGI sex scenes are easier than the real thing. All they would need is permission from the actors. If a studio is willing to be extra shady, they might not even need that. They’d just scan the bodies of the actors and actresses. Then, they use CGI to do the sexy scenes. The actors and actresses involved never even have to be in the same room together, let alone get naked.

It could lead to a situation where studios, fearful of sexual assault accusations or disease transmission, avoid real-life sex scenes altogether. They’d leave that sort of thing for porn studios. It might even increase the number of sex scenes we get in cinema because with CGI, they don’t have to deal with actors, sets, or on-screen chemistry. Their only limit is processing power.

Now, will this be a good or bad thing for the movie business?

Will it be a good or bad things for sex scenes, in general?

It’s hard to say. Personally, I think most sex scenes in mainstream movies are only marginally sexy. You can usually tell when there’s a body double or when the sexy parts are being faked. When it works, it’s beautiful. It just rarely works in mainstream movies.

I’d like to see that change, but I don’t know if this will bring that change. It’ll be interesting to see. There will always be a place for real, non-CGI sex scenes, but I have a feeling they’re going to become increasingly rare in the coming years.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, censorship, Current Events, futurism, movies, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, Sexy Future, women's issues

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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Mia Kalifa, The Porn Industry, And Why Her (Lack Of) Earnings Matter

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Imagine that you’re young, low on money, and in need of a quick buck. You do a few side-gigs, like drive a taxi or do some yard work. You make some money up front. You’re grateful for it. You wish you didn’t have to do it, but you still did and you’re ready to move forward with your life.

Now, imagine that same work you did ended up making someone else a boatload of money that continues to flow in, even though you’ve long since finished your part. Maybe while mowing the lawn, you discovered a priceless artifact under a tree stump. Maybe while driving a taxi, your car became the site of an infamous crime. Anyone with a white 1993 Ford Bronco SUV can attest to that.

With those ideas in mind, let’s talk about Mia Kalifa. If you don’t know who that is, just ask any straight man with an internet connection and a suspiciously large supply of tissue boxes. You might not get an honest answer, but rest assured, she’s a known public figure and not just because she has over 15 million followers on Instagram.

One of the reasons why she has so many.

She’s worth talking about, but not because she’s a former porn star who still garners a great deal of popularity, despite having not worked in the industry for years. Recently, she made the news after revealing that, even though she was one of the most popular porn stars in the world for a time, she made a total of $12,000 for her entire career.

For someone who was that successful in an industry that’s already exceedingly crowded by an abundance of content, that just doesn’t seem to add up. Most working people make more than $12,000 in a year, even if they’re paid minimum wage. They even get to keep their clothes on. What’s going on here?

There is a context to that story. By her own admission, she was in the industry for about three months. She only got paid a flat rate of about $1,000 for each scene she did and, given how few she ended up doing, it’s still more than minimum wage. She basically made $12,000 for approximately two weeks of work. Ignoring, for the moment, that the work involved making porn, it’s not a terrible rate.

However, what stands out most about her story is that she continues to generate money for the companies that initially paid her. To this day, those scenes she shot still generate traffic for popular sites like PornHub and that traffic still makes its parent company, MindGeek, some additional profit.

Most people don’t know, or want to know for that matter, that the most popular porn sites and studios are owned by MindGeek. Think of any site your significant other won’t admit to visiting. Chances are, they own it. They’re basically the Amazon of porn. They’re so big that there really isn’t a close second.

It’s because they’re so big that Ms. Kalifa’s story isn’t unique. Most people who enter the porn industry, be they male or female, have to go through MindGeek in some form or another. They’re basically a monopoly and because of that, they can get away with shady practices, such as underpaying workers or short-changing them with fine print.

Listed above are sites few will admit to knowing.

Most porn performers, including Ms. Kalifa, only get paid a flat rate per scene. They basically function as independent contractors, which means they’re not salaried employees who get benefits. They’re basically Uber drivers, but with sex. Unlike Uber drivers, though, the top performers can actually make a lot more, but they’re the exception and not the norm. Most performers are in Ms. Kalifa’s situation.

It’s not a situation unique to porn. Other elements of the entertainment industry have used similar practices for years. The music industry has plenty of examples of successful artists who sell millions of albums, but still go bankrupt because most of that money went to the companies they worked for rather than the artists themselves.

It even happens in the comic book industry. Few individuals have created and drawn more iconic character than Jack Kirby, but because he was a work-for-hire, he didn’t technically own his creations. The companies he worked for, both Marvel and DC Comics, owned them. As a result of this, there were some lengthy legal battles with Kirby’s estate. Not surprisingly, the companies won.

Think of any industry that involves performing or creating some kind of art. There’s a good chance that there are cases where someone creates something that becomes successful, but the creators themselves don’t profit from it. Only the companies profit.

Again, there’s a context to that. In industries like music, the top one percent of performers earn over three-quarters of the revenue. Most creative endeavors fail to turn a profit. As someone trying hard to break into the publishing industry, I can attest to how common failure and rejection are. These industries, as shady as their practices might be, need to make a profit and that often requires enduring many losses.

That’s exactly why Mia Kalifa’s story matters. It doesn’t just shed light on the less glamorous aspects of the porn industry. It highlights how the actual people behind popular media don’t reap as much of the benefits as we think. For porn stars, current and former, that’s made even harder by the stigma and taboos surrounding the industry. Ms. Kalifa endured those unpleasant elements more than most.

It’s a system that’s only getting worse. There was a time when porn stars could make considerably more money and even earn some residual income from the booming DVD market. Thanks to the advent of streaming media and excessive piracy, that’s no longer the case. It’s why many porn stars are turning to escorting or licensing products.

Given the dirty nature of the business, few politicians or advocates will loudly proclaim they want to help the people in the porn industry. The last few years have been very difficult for anyone in the sex industry. Laws are making sex work more restrictive and more dangerous to everyone involved. Performers will end up with the stigma, but the companies will get most of the profits.

To some extent, what happened to Mia Kalifa’s career is a microcosm of what’s happening to entertainment in general. We’re currently in an era where big companies are acquiring as much intellectual property as possible. Companies, be they major movie studios or porn producers, have a vested interest in controlling the content at the cost of the performers.

Since so few entertainment products turn a profit, these companies have too much incentive to short-change performers and creators. There’s no law that requires companies to give performers a small percentage of future earnings. There’s no law that stops them from exploiting the content created by performers, even if those same performers don’t want to be associated with the work anymore.

Given the money and influence of these companies, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, Mia Kalifa did us all a service by making people aware of this very flawed system. The fact that she did this while fully clothed and being brutally honest in a world that lives in alternative facts might be her best performance to date.

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“Happy Death Day 2U” Review: A Quality Sequel With Noticeable Flaws

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Slasher movies are one of those frustrating genres that have a lot of overdone tropes, but a handful of gems that really stand out. These movies tend to have a standard formula from which few deviates. There’s a mysterious killer on the loose. A group of attractive young people try to escape. All the promiscuous ones die while the sweet, innocent virgin who never shows her tits survives.

If you’ve seen any slasher movie after the first “Halloween” in 1978, then you’ve seen this play out any number of ways. However, it’s because that formula is so overdone that the first “Happy Death Day” felt so refreshing. When I reviewed this movie, I lauded how it injected fresh nuance into the typical horror/slasher formula. It didn’t completely abandon that formula, but it didn’t play by the rules either.

That approach paid off. The move went onto make over $125 million worldwide, despite having a budget just below $5 million. That’s a pretty good payoff for horror/slasher movie in an era where superhero movies dominate and movies that punish beautiful women for being sexy is losing favor. Not surprisingly, this success warranted a sequel in “Happy Death Day 2U.”

Considering how the first movie wrapped things up so neatly, a sequel comes with greater risk. How do you even build on a story where a young woman is stuck in a time loop where she dies at the hands of a killer every time? After the time loop ends, shouldn’t the story also end? “Happy Death Day 2U” tries to make the case that there’s still room for the story to grow.

By and large, the movie succeeds in telling that story. However, I don’t believe the movie works quite as well as the first in terms of impact and nuance. I admit I was skeptical, and even a little disappointed, when I heard that a sequel was in the works. For a movie that overtly referenced “Groundhog Day,” which never got a sequel, it seemed like it could only be counterproductive.

To some extent, those concerns were vindicated at the start of the movie. One of the things that made “Groundhog Day” such an effective concept was that we never learned what caused the time loop that trapped Phil Connors. While the cause was revealed in the original scrip to the movie, the act of not explaining the cause helped make it an effective plot device.

Happy Death Day 2U” doesn’t bother with such ambiguity. Within the first half-hour of the movie, we find out what caused Tree Gelbman to get stuck in the time loop that plagued her in the first movie. I won’t spoil too many details. I’ll just say that there’s nothing overly supernatural or subtly spiritual about it.

That’s not to say it still doesn’t work. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it adds an extra level of innovation to the horror/slasher formula that the first “Happy Death Day” did so much to alter. The stakes are different this time around, but the concept is the same. Tree is stuck in a time loop again, but the story has less to do with how she escapes and more to do with the price she pays to do so.

There isn’t quite as much mystery, but there are new complications that add a different kind of intrigue. The nature of the loop and the identity of the killer is different, this time. Motivations and obstacles are different too, but similar enough to build upon the foundation that the first movie established.

While I didn’t care for how “Happy Death Day 2U” explained the time loop, I still found myself genuinely intrigued by Tree’s journey, as well as that of her supporting cast. In the first movie, much like Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day,” Tree starts off as a selfish, arrogant, mean-spirited person who is difficult to root for. Over the course of the movie, though, she becomes more likable.

Tree’s journey in “Happy Death Day 2U” takes it even further by testing her new persona. Instead of becoming a better person by navigating the time loop, Tree is faced with a series of difficult, gut-wrenching choices. Beyond surviving the killer, escaping the time loop means paying a heavy price. Within the moments of bloody violence and messy deaths, she agonizes over that price.

That aspect of the story is what makes “Happy Death Day 2U” worth seeing. Even if it loses something by explaining the source of the time loop, it gains something by building on Tree’s story. We learn more and more about why she was such a self-loathing bitch in the first place, which makes her growth from that persona even more satisfying.

By the end of “Happy Death Day 2U,” it feels like Tree has take yet another step. She shows just how much she has grown, as a result of her experience in the time loop. It also gives even more weight to the blossoming relationship she has with Carter Davis. Her feelings for him and his feelings for her feel a lot more genuine by the time the credits roll.

As meaningful as this kind of character growth is, though, “Happy Death Day 2U” doesn’t hide from the fact that it’s still a slasher movie. Like its predecessor, it’s overtly coy with how it portrays the violence and death scenes. It’s a little gratuitous, at times. It also employs some tongue-in-cheek humor that helps balance things out.

Happy Death Day 2U” never tries to be too bloody, but never tries to be too funny, either. It takes what the first movie did and builds on the foundation. While it doesn’t feel as novel or innovative as the first, it still captures the overall spirit and style.

The movie still has flaws beyond explaining the cause of the time loop and limiting the overall mystery. Like the first one, this movie feels like it holds back at times. It probably could’ve done a lot more with an R-rating instead of a standard PG-13 rating, but there’s never a sense that the movie attempts to walk a fine line between the two.

In addition, while Tree’s character undergoes plenty of growth, Carter still doesn’t get nearly as much. We still don’t know much about who he is or what makes him tick. He still shows plenty of backbone throughout the movie, stepping up in a way that make him easy to root for, both as a character and as Tree’s love interest. It just feels like he doesn’t get his chance to shine.

There’s also the issue of needing to see the first “Happy Death Day” to understand what’s going on here. This is one of those movies where the prequel really isn’t optional if you want to appreciate everything that happens. In fact, this movie build so much upon the first that it basically acts as an extension more than a sequel.

Those flaws aside, “Happy Death Day 2U” is still a solid movie that took some considerable risks. Those risks paid off in that it further established this franchise a badly-needed shot in the arm for a genre that has become less relevant in recent years. If I had to score this movie, I would give it a solid 4 out of 5.

There is still a place for horror/slasher movies and there probably always will be. “Happy Death Day 2U” demonstrates that there’s still plenty of room for blood, violence, sex appeal, and creepy masked killers in the current cinematic landscape. John Carpenter and Wes Craven may have helped perfect that formula, but “Happy Death Day 2U” adds some new and overdue ingredients.

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