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Why I’m More Excited For “X-men: Dark Phoenix” Than “Avengers: Infinity War”

Not long ago, the internet stopped for a brief moment and had a shared orgasm over the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer. I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed my share of the collective ecstasy. I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. Sure, I had a hard time hiding my comic book loving boner, but compared to other awkward boners I’ve dealt with, I was more than happy to wear loose pants for the rest of the day.

I honestly didn’t think I could be more excited about the impressive slate of superhero movies set for release in 2018. Then, Entertainment Weekly had to come along and offer a first glimpse into “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” a movie I’ve talked about before with the same anxious excitement as Wonder Woman. Honestly, I don’t think anyone not named MC Hammer makes pants loose enough.

I don’t know if the timing was on purpose. I just know that my erection can only get so hard when it comes to superhero movies. Me being an unapologetic X-men fan, which I’ve belabored more than once on this site, I’m inherently more excited about this movie than I am “Avengers: Infinity War.”

I get it. Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige are on a win-streak that would make an entire team of Michael Jordan’s envious. To date, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has raked in over $13 billion and “Avengers: Infinity War” is guaranteed to add to it and at a time when even highly-touted X-men movies can’t rake in more than $800 million.

Why, then, should anyone who isn’t an unapologetic X-men fan be more excited about “X-men: Dark Phoenix?” There are many reasons, more so than most who aren’t X-men fans probably realize. Some are more obvious than other. The first, and most notable, can best be summed up by two words: Sophie Turner.

In case anyone needs a reminder why she’s such a big deal, take a look at these first glimpses of Ms. Turner in all her Jean Grey/Dark Phoenix glory. Be sure you have loose pants and clean underwear handy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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I’ll give everyone a moment for their heart to settle and their pants to untighten. Take all the time you need. Believe me, it took me longer than I expected.

That one picture, in addition literally burning with Ms. Turner’s sex appeal, checks the most important box I listed in my article about how to not screw up a Dark Phoenix movie. It unleashes the fiery passion of the Phoenix and uses Sophie Turner’s sex appeal to do it.

While I doubt that director Simon Kinberg read that post, it’s a big deal that he’s emphasized this aspect of “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” That’s primarily because that critical element that makes the Phoenix Saga one of the greatest X-men stories of all time was omitted from the last attempt to do a Dark Phoenix movie, “X-men: The Last Stand.” The less said about that craptactular failure, the better.

Beyond capturing the necessary elements for a decent Dark Phoenix story, it also reflects a fundamental difference between this movie and “Avengers: Infinity War.” At its core, the Phoenix Saga is about a beloved friend and hero becoming corrupted. It involves high drama, heart-breaking sacrifices, and beautiful redheaded women kicking ass.

The core of “Avengers: Infinity War” is decidedly not that, especially after Black Widow died her hair. This movie is banking less on high drama and more on over-the-top battles involving the most powerful heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe against Thanos, one of Marvel’s most overpowered villains with a disturbingly extreme death fetish.

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach. In fact, it’s probably the best possible approach for a movie that has been built up over the course of over a dozen big-budget films. Nobody can ever claim that Kevin Feige hasn’t been thorough in establishing the scale for this movie.

The problem, if you can call it that, is because of that scale, it’s difficult for a movie like “Avengers: Infinity War” to be anything other than what you expect it to be. It’s going to be an intense, over-the-top battle that will triple down on the themes that made the first Avenger’s movie so successful. At this point, that’s all it can do.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” offers something more than that. Like “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s expanding the scope and scale of the movie to a level that no previous X-men movie has ever attempted. Whereas the first X-men trilogy tried way too hard to stay grounded, this one is letting the X-men push the boundaries like they do every other week in the comics.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” will let the X-men go into space. It’ll let Jean Grey get overwhelmed and surrounded by cosmic fire, something “X-men: The Last Stand” barely even attempted. It’ll even let Sophie Turner get naked. That alone is worth the bloated ticket price.

Those elements, both the cosmic fire and the nudity, don’t even have to be forced. They’re actually in line with the canon X-men comics. Jean Grey has been known to fly around in the cosmic buff every now and then. I won’t say it’s a critical element to Phoenix Saga movie, but as someone who values nudity more than most, I can safely say it’s a hell of a bonus.

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While I doubt anyone will pay extra to see Thanos get naked in “Avengers: Infinity War,” there’s one more element that helps sell me on “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It has less to do with spectacle or nudity and more to do with underlying theme.

In a sense, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” is an opportunity to go beyond superhero movies. Like “Logan” and “Deadpool” before it, this movie has elements that can help it go beyond superhero movies, just as the original Phoenix Saga dared to go beyond stories about super-powered people in spandex costumes defeating villains.

There are all sorts of genres that “X-men: Dark Phoenix” can encompass. It can be a tragedy. It can be a sci-fi adventure. It can be a romance, which I’ve touched on before. It can be so many things, all within a single narrative. The ability for one movie to encompass all those elements, be it a superhero movie or a Disney musical, is a rare and special thing.

Avengers: Infinity War” has its place and chances are, it’s going to make more money than “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It may end up making more money than any movie in history that doesn’t involve exploding death stars or blue aliens.

For me, someone who isn’t one of Fox or Disney’s accountants, you can’t put a price on the breadth of experiences offered by “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” Given the early fan responses to these new teasers, it’s safe to say I’m not a alone in this sentiment. Hopefully, those sentiments only grow once the first trailer drops.

If Fox, Simon Kinberg, and Sophie Turner can get it right in all the ways X-men: The Last Stand” failed and/or didn’t attempt, then it promises to be a truly special cinematic experience.

Also, and it’s worth repeating, the prospect of Sophie Turner getting naked outside a disturbing scene in “Game of Thrones” should appeal to everyone. Besides, why should Jennifer Lawrence’s nudity-loving Mystique have all the fun?

 

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The TomatoMeter: Is It Ruining Movies?

Let’s not lie to ourselves. We all have that one movie that we love, but everyone else, from our friends to professional critics, hate with a passion. I don’t deny I have my share. In fact, I have more than one. Some of my favorite guilty pleasure movies involve such critically panned classics like “Dude Where’s My Care?” and “Terminator Genisys.”

I don’t apologize for loving those movies, nor should anyone else apologize for liking the movies that they like. Everybody is entitled to their own tastes in movies, TV shows, comics, and porn. Granted, tastes in porn can be somewhat revealing about a person, but that’s another discussion for another article.

The discussion I’d like to have now has less to do with our ability to love critically panned movies and more to do with what’s happening with the movie industry, which has released more than it share of terrible movies. These are strange times for Hollywood and not just because it’s much harder to hide a sordid sex scandal.

Anyone who has watched at least one movie or been to the non-pornographic parts of the internet for at least ten minutes has probably heard of a site called Rotten Tomatoes. It is to movies what a rectal thermometer is to your health. Most people don’t like using it. Many try to ignore or avoid it. Sometimes, though, it tells us important things about our general health.

I’ll try to keep the rectal analogies to a minimum because there’s a growing issue with respect to Rotten Tomatoes and how it’s effecting the industry. More than one major producer has come out and bemoaned the site’s impact on the industry. Granted, one of those voices is Brett Ratner and his credibility has taken a huge hit lately. That doesn’t make that impact any less serious.

There was a time as recently as 2007 that a movie could get a lousy score on Rotten Tomatoes and still do well at the box office. Most recently, movies like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” were the poster boy for this phenomenon. That movie earned a pitiful 19 percent on the Tomatometer, but it still managed to rake in over $836 million at the box office.

Personally, I really enjoyed that movie. I thought it was a lot of fun, despite Shia Lebouf’s goofy demeanor, at times. However, that movie might have been the last of its kind in that it failed so hard with critics, but still made plenty of money, both domestically and at the foreign box office. Later movies did much worse domestically and had to rely on international box office receipts to turn a profit.

Since then, a bat Tomatometer score can really hurt a movie’s profits. Most recently, the two movies that suffered this the most were “Fantastic Four” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Both of these movies didn’t just under-perform. In some cases, major studios singled them out as a reason for declining profits.

Even more recently, the “Justice League” movie took a major hit when its Tomatometer score tanked, even though the majority of audiences liked it. There’s already a lot of doomsaying going on that, due to the poor reception of the movie, it could end up losing a great deal of money for Warner Brothers.

Think about that for a moment. The critics hated that movie, but the audiences loved it. However, due to the poor Tomatometer score, a movie like “Justice League” is doomed to go down in history as a failure. Even if the point of the movie is to entertain the audience, which “Justice League” seemed to achieve, it’s going to fail because a handful of critics said so.

This is where the influence of Rotten Tomatoes gets kind of scary. There are a great many movies that audiences love, such as “Independence Day” and “Home Alone” that have lousy Tomatometer scores, but were still huge box office successes. They succeeded because they pleased audiences and not critics. They’re certainly not the only ones.

If those movies had come out today, then they wouldn’t have been as much a success. Today, it’s easier than ever to look up how acclaimed a movie is and judge its quality, based on its score. Some of the people who ended up loving movies “Home Alone” might never have seen it, just because of the Tomatometer.

On some levels, that’s understandable. People don’t want to pay to see a movie that sucks. We waste our money on enough crap these days. We don’t want to pay $15 to see a movie we don’t like. However, how do we even know we won’t like it until we see it? Are we really going to trust critics to do that kind of thinking for us?

Now, there will be some who never pay much attention to what critics say. Even if Rotten Tomatoes had been around years ago, I still would’ve seen “Dude Where’s My Care?” because that’s just the kind of guilty pleasure movie I love.

However, if too many studios are concerned about what the almighty Tomatometer says, then movies like that might not even get made in the first place. Sure, the world wouldn’t change much if a movie like “Dude Where’s My Care?” had never been made, but that’s not the point.

If an entire industry is going to obsess over what a handful of critics on Rotten Tomatoes say about their movie, then they’re going to focus on pleasing them instead of audiences. This has already caused some consternation among movie fans, some of which suspect that there’s something corrupt going on behind the scenes.

While I don’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, I don’t think this one would take a full-blown CIA operation to achieve. If a movie studio wants to spend a few extra million dollars bribing movie critics to prop up their Tomatometer score, then I can’t think of how anyone could stop them.

Sure, it’s unethical, but nobody is going to prison for that. Human nature tells us that if there’s a low-risk way to achieve high-risk returns with little chance of getting caught and only minor repercussions at best, then it probably will happen at some point. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that it has happened in the past, but those involved are smart enough not to get caught.

With the Rotten Tomatoes, though, that kind of corruption becomes even easier because the result is quantifiable. You can see it in the Tomatometer score of a movie. It’s hard to imagine such a powerful tool not getting corrupted at some point.

For now, I suspect this trend will continue with Rotten Tomatoes wielding greater and greater power over a movie’s success. That trend could easily change or reverse down the line. For now, though, I won’t go so far as to say that Rotten Tomatoes is actively ruining movies. I’ll just say that it’s setting a dangerous precedent.

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My Top 5 Favorite Fan Theories

There are many guilty pleasures on the internet these days, although only a few require a total clearing of your browser history. I don’t deny enjoying some of those pleasures, but there is one in particular that I’ve grown fond of in recent years. It’s one of the few that requires extra thinking, but in a fun, non-tedious sort of way.

I’m referring about fan theories, also known as the biggest chunk of Reddit that doesn’t involve celebrities answering random questions about their genitals. Now, I didn’t realize how much I loved fan theories until I started exploring them. Like pumpkin spice lattes, they’re one of those strange novelties you don’t know you like until you try them.

I didn’t even know they were a thing until Cracked.com started doing articles about them. I was among those who didn’t bother reading too much into a TV show, movie, or song. I just took them in, singled out the ones that had beautiful women in bikinis, and enjoyed the extra butter in my popcorn. Fan theories inspired me to dig a little deeper and sometimes, it can change the overall experience for the better.

Granted, some fan theories are going to be much more absurd than others, as many “Game of Thrones” fans will attest. Some are so absurd that creators have to come out and shoot it down, as a “Friends” co-creator had to do when a theory involving Phoebe and meth-fueled fantasies gained popularity. Yes, these theories can get that crazy.

Sure, those crazier fan theories are good for a laugh, but I prefer fan theories that add nuance and depth to the story. Even if they require a few contrivances here and there, I find that they enhance the overall impact of the narrative. Sometimes, they can even clarify some ambiguous plot points.

As a general fan of stories that have impact, both in the heart and in the loins, there are certain fan theories that resonate with me more than others. That’s why I’d like to list my top five favorite fan theories and why I think they improve the overall story. If nothing else, I hope it gets people to watch a little closer at the media they consume. They may surprise themselves by how a little imagination can add to the experience.


Fan Theory #1: James Bond Is A Title, Not A Name

This fan theory is beautiful in its simplicity. It doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination. If anything, it helps connect a few dots that you didn’t even know where there. No matter which version of James Bond you prefer, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, this theory fits into it.

The concept is simple. James Bond, like the 007 designation itself, isn’t the name of an actual person. It’s a title. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every James Bond movie ever made fits into the same continuity. It just means James Bond is less a person and more a concept.

He represents the epitome of a spy, a badass, and a smooth-talking ladies man. In every era, from the Cold War to today, there’s a need for men like that. James Bond represents the ideal for those men. Like Navy Seals, only a few have what it takes. Those select few earn the right to go by that name that makes women of all eras swoon. I find that inherently poetic.

If you subscribe to this theory, it even enhances other movies. It ties directly into a theory about the movie, “The Rock,” and somehow it makes Sean Connery even more badass. The sheer reach of this theory is part of why it’s my favorite.


Fan Theory #2: Stan Lee Is The Watcher

As a die-hard comic book fan, which I’ve made clear on many occasions, this theory is near and dear to my heart, if only because it further immortalizes the legend that is Stan “The Man” Lee.

As anyone who has seen a Marvel movie since 2000 knows, Stan Lee often appears as a cameo in every movie. From a hot dog vendor in “X2: X-men United” to a Fed Ex guy in “Captain America: Civil War,” he seems to pop up everywhere, regardless of which studio owns the movie rights.

Well, this fan theory takes those appearances and turns them into something more than just a fun gimmick. It says that Stan is actually playing the same character in all his appearances, namely that of Uatu, The Watcher. Those who know Marvel lore understand why this is a big deal and why it makes so much sense.

The Watcher is like a cosmic historian, documenting and cataloging every major event in the Marvel universe, going back to the beginning. He’s been known to change appearance and show up unexpectedly throughout the comics. Who better encapsulates that spirit other than Stan “The Man” Lee?

This is actually one of those theories that became so popular that it was effectively confirmed in “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” wherein Stan Lee is shown interacting with the Watchers. It could mean that this theory might expand the breadth of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, a feat that only Stan himself could hope to accomplish.


Fan Theory #3: R2-D2 And Chewbacca Are Secret Rebel Agents

I don’t deny it. I’ve seen every Star Wars movie to date in the theaters and I love every one of them, Jar Jar Binks notwithstanding. I know there’s a popular Jar Jar fan theory that helps make “The Phantom Menace” somewhat more interesting, but I don’t think it does much to enhance the overall saga.

That’s why this theory about R2-D2 and Chewbacca is much more intriguing. It claims that at the end of “Revenge of the Sith,” R2 did not get its memory wiped. Why would it? It witnessed the rise of the Empire and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. That’s very useful information for the future rebellion.

However, R2 and anyone else associated with the old Jedi order needs to lay low once Palpatine comes to power. That’s where Chewbacca comes in, who already established a relationship with Yoda in “Revenge of the Sith.” By becoming an agent of Yoda and the rebels, he can coordinate with R2 to spread intel among the rebellion right under the Empire’s nose.

It also explains how he ended up with Han Solo, a smuggler who constantly annoys the empire with his criminal activities. By being on Tattooine, he can keep an eye on Luke along with Obi-Wan while relaying intel.

More than any other theory, it provides connective tissue between the prequels and the sequels. It also makes R2 even more lovable, which in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.


Fan Theory #4: Andy’s Parents Are Going Through (A Nasty) Divorce

Honestly, who doesn’t love “Toy Story?” I question the emotional health of anyone who doesn’t. It’s such a fun, upbeat story full of heart and emotion. It helped make Pixar the gold standard for animated movies that make adults cry like children.

Well, get some tissues because this fan theory makes “Toy Story” just a little bit more emotional, if you can believe that. It helps make sense of why Andy is so imaginative, preferring to play with toys for hours on end in his room. The answer is simple, but solemn. His parents are going through a nasty divorce.

While there’s nothing in the movies that directly hint at it, the absence of Andy’s father is somewhat telling. Some eagle-eyed fans have even pointed out that Andy’s mother isn’t wearing a wedding ring. That hints that there’s something amiss in his home life. Either Andy’s father left his family or he got kicked out of the house. It also explains why the family was moving in the first movie.

I like this theory because it adds some context to Andy’s home life. It makes me understand why he loves his toys so much. He creates these wonderful worlds in his mind to escape and cope with a tough situation. Compared to what he could’ve done, I think it’s both healthy and refreshing.


Fan Theory #5: The Dinosaurs In “Jurassic Park” Are NOT Dinosaurs

The appeal of “Jurassic Park” is pretty easy to understand. In terms of summer blockbusters, it checks all the right boxes. It involves cute kids, running from monsters, and wondrous imagery that doesn’t entirely rely on CGI. It’s so wondrous that you don’t care that the dinosaurs in that movie look nothing like actual dinosaurs and the science behind making them is impossible in the real world.

That’s why this fan theory is so compelling because it adds an extra layer to that wonder. Simply put, Jurassic Park has no dinosaurs. All those creatures you see in every movie aren’t based on any actual creatures that once lived. They were all genetically engineered to simply look like what people think are dinosaurs.

While that may help make sense of why the creatures in the movies don’t resemble anything we see in the fossil record, it adds an even greater amount of intrigue to “Jurassic Park” because it gives Dr. Hammond a more subtle motivation. Why would he even ask a couple of paleontologist to visit his park in the first place?

This theory gives a more clear-cut answer in that Hammond knew that if he could fool a couple of paleontologists, then he knew he was onto something. He could call the creatures in his park dinosaurs instead of some zoo for genetic monstrosities. Remember, he wants to appeal to family and kids.

This theory, like the Stan Lee/Watcher theory, actually got some level of confirmation in “Jurassic World.” In that movie, Dr. Henry Wu flat out says that “there are no dinosaurs in Jurassic World.” Everything was engineered to up the spectacle. It’s one of those theories that makes too much sense, but in a good way.

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How “Happy Death Day” (Surprisingly) Enriches Horror/Slasher Movies

When it comes to horror/slasher movies, it’s hard to break new ground these days. That’s because most still cling to the tried and true formula established by the likes of “Friday The 13th” and “Halloween.” That means there is usually going to be some crazed killer, some horny teenagers, and some sweet, yet sexy virgin who survives it all. You can practically set your watch to it, along with the standard jump scares.

It’s for that reason that slasher movies aren’t really as big a draw as they used to be. On top of that, they tend to be annoyingly sex negative and not in a subtle way either. If you’re a horny teenager in a slasher movie, then there’s a 99 percent chance you’ll be dead by the time the credits roll.

That’s why when a movie comes along to shake up that narrative, it’s worth noticing. That brings me to a recent horror movie that caught my intrigue and defied my expectations. It’s called “Happy Death Day” and, apart from the goofy title, it accomplishes something remarkable.

The first major accomplishment, for me personally, is that the trailer actually made me want to see the movie. In this era where every movie trailer follows a similar formula, we’ve all become fairly numb to their effects. We know what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to do it. Unless you were already planning to see the movie, as is often the case with superhero movies, then a trailer probably won’t do much.

With “Happy Death Day,” the trailer struck a chord for me because it presented a different kind of slasher/horror movie. Moreover, it did so in a way where the concept was more appealing than the actual slashing/horror. Whereas most horror movies will try to build every promotional effort around that horror, “Happy Death Day” threw something else into the mix that proved enticing.

That concept may not seem radically new, on paper. “Happy Death Day” doesn’t radically reinvent the genre as much as it innovates with established concepts. It’s basically a combination of “Friday The 13th,” “Final Destination,” and “Groundhog Day.” It uses familiar themes like masked killers, time loops, and  exceedingly elaborate scenes. However, it’s the way in which they’re presented that makes the movie work.

It also helps that the presentation is done through a beautiful female protagonist named Teresa “Tree” Gelbman, who is played by a very emotive Jessica Rothe. Beyond being a pretty face, though, Tree embodies everything audiences love to hate about beautiful, sexually active women in horror movies.

She’s shallow, callous, self-centered, dismissive, and just plain mean. I won’t say she’s on the same level as Regina George from “Mean Girls,” but she’s in the same time zone. Essentially, she’s basically a female version of Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day” in the sense that she’s a fairly reprehensible person that we’re not supposed to like from the get-go.

When someone is nice to her, she just blows them off. When someone tries to wish her a happy birthday, she just rolls her eyes. On top of that, she’s openly promiscuous, hooking up with her friends’ boyfriends and having an affair with her married teacher. By every measure, this is a girl who should be at the top of Jason Voorhees’ kill list.

However, “Happy Death Day” actually digs a bit deeper than “Groundhog Day” in that, over the course of the movie, we learn why Tree is the way she is. She isn’t just bitchy for the sake of being bitchy. There’s a reason for it and as the movie goes on, it’s hard not to root for her as she struggles against her killer.

Speaking of her killer, that’s another part about “Happy Death Day” that stands out. Unlike Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees, there’s never a sense that this killer is someone to root for. In typical slasher movies, it’s easy to root for the killer because they have a certain personality or charisma to them. That’s not the case here. In a sense, the killer in this movie is less a person and more deadly obstacle for Tree to overcome.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the killer because that would be getting into spoiler territory. I enjoyed this movie enough to actually want people to go and see it or rent it. This movie definitely is worth seeing because it doesn’t play out entirely like a traditional slasher/horror movie. There are twists and turns that help it stand out.

That leads me to one of the most unique and intriguing elements of “Happy Death Day.” Unlike so many other slasher movies, this movie doesn’t implicitly penalize characters for being overly sexual. I won’t go so far as to say it’s sex positive, like the “Deadpool” movie. Essentially, it’s entirely sex neutral and for a horror movie, that’s still pretty remarkable.

What happens to Tree in “Happy Death Day” has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a beautiful young woman who enjoys having sex for the fun of it. If you take away the sex, but keep the rest of her personality traits intact, she’s still the same person. She would still be subject to the same horrors that unfold throughout the movie.

Her being trapped in an endless cycle of being killed and re-killed has little to do with her promiscuity and everything to do with what a rotten person she is. That’s the part of her that puts her in the crosshairs of a killer. Overcoming that rotten persona is every bit the struggle as the one that involves running from a psycho-killer.

Needless to say, it gets pretty chaotic and messy. Being a horror/slasher movie,  “Happy Death Day” has more than its share of gratuitous violence and bloodshed. That’s one horror element that this movie doesn’t try to subvert, but it doesn’t have to. It just makes it work in a whole new way.

Now, I enjoyed this movie thoroughly. I highly recommend others see it as well, either in theaters or on TV when it comes out. That’s not to say it’s flawless, though. There are some elements in “Happy Death Day” that left much to be desired.

For one, the movie is rated PG-13. While I understand the studio wanting to appeal to a wider audiences, I think that was a mistake for a horror/slasher movie. At times, the violence and nudity seem incredibly watered-down. Compared to a standard “Friday The 13th” sequel, it felt unbelievably tame.

On top of that, some of the supporting characters, namely the nice/generic love interest, Carter Davis, played by Israel Broussard, left a lot to be desired. Carter is likable and all, but he comes off as too flat. There’s never a sense that he and Tree should be together for any other reason beside the fact he’s nice. While it never feels outright forced, it lacks depth.

There’s also the somewhat tongue-in-cheek humor that the movie tries to squeeze in. It tries to be meta in that it acknowledges that elements of the story are similar to “Groundhog Day.” This effort falls somewhat flat and kind of takes away from the drama. I get why it’s there since the parallels are so obvious, but saying it out loud really undermines the mood.

Even with those shortcomings, “Happy Death Day” was still an incredibly enjoyable experience. I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed seeing a horror/slasher movie in the theater. The concept, the story, and the characters involved all offered a unique appeal, one that dared to defy traditional horror formulas. For that, I give this movie two thumbs up and a special place on my list of horror movies.

 

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On My Favorite Romance Movie: “Crazy/Beautiful”

When it comes to romance movies, most men will never admit they have a favorite. They usually won’t admit to ever having sat through a movie, unless they were with a woman they were desperately trying to bang. It’s just not a very macho thing to do, admitting you actually enjoy romance movies.

However, if you hook those same macho men up to a polygraph, strap a jumper cable to their balls, and threaten to shave their head with a brick, though, most will concede that they have watched a romance movie. They’ll even admit they have a favorite. Up the voltage on the jumper cables, they’ll even admit to getting choked up while watching it.

There’s no need to subject me to such torture. I freely admit that I’ve watched romance movies from beginning to end. I’ve even seen them in theaters by myself and without a date. I’m a romance-loving guy. I admit that with no shame. If anyone wants to give me crap about it, then they can kiss my romance-loving ass.

I even have a favorite romance movie, one that I think has inspired me in my efforts to become an erotica/romance writer. It wasn’t some big blockbuster. It wasn’t some shameless Oscar push either. It didn’t even have killer robots, explosions, or comic book characters. I’ll give everyone who has noted my love of comics a moment to stop gasping.

It wasn’t a box office smash. It wasn’t a critical darling either. I don’t care. It’s still the premier romance movie by which I measure all others. It came out in 2001 and it’s called “Crazy/Beautiful.” I’ll give everyone another moment to stop rolling their eyes.

This isn’t one of those romance movies that’s too cheesy or too dramatic. It’s also not overly serious or overly cynical, either. It’s just a sweet, sexy story about two young people falling in love, going through some upheavals, and coming together in the end. Again, it’s one of those concepts that gets the jaded cynics of the world to roll their eyes, but still feels undeniably real at the end of the day.

The story is somewhat basic, but mature in a sense. The characters involved are Nicole Oakley, played by Kirsten Dunst just before her fame peaked with “Spider-Man,” and Carlos Nuñez, played by Jay Hernandez, who is best known for his work on TV shows like “Nashville” and “Gang Related.” From the very beginning, there’s some very heated chemistry between both characters.

Like many other love stories, both characters are from different worlds. Nicole is the rebellious child of a wealthy, but broken family. Her mother is gone, but her father remarries a woman who she does not get along with. Being young, beautiful, and hormonal, she ditches the comfortable settings of her home and looks for adventure on the rougher parts of town.

That’s where she finds Carlos, a young Latino man with dreams of rising above his rough upbringing. He’s on the football team. He has dreams of becoming a pilot. He’s not some stereotypical bad boy that women get with for all the wrong reasons. He’s the kind of guy you actually root for to succeed. That’s what draws Nicole to him and the chemistry they create is pretty damn hot.

It doesn’t take some horrible tragedy or elaborate circumstance for these two to come together. Nicole and her friend are just out partying on the rough side of town when their paths cross. They flirt, they tease, and they fool around like actual, normal teenagers do in real life. It’s sweet, it’s sexy, and it feels so genuine and real.

That’s a big part of what appeals to me and what sets movies like “Crazy/Beautiful” apart from typical romance, many of which follow the same bland formula. Many romance movies feel as though the love between the two characters needs to be epic, intense, or tragic. Sure, that has created some pretty iconic romances, but those romances are iconic for a reason.

Not every couple needs to be Romeo and Juliet or Princess Leia and Han Solo from “Star Wars.” In fact, trying to recreate those romances can underscore the actual chemistry between them. It happens all the time in comics, especially with couples like Batman and Catwoman. It happens even more in movies, especially when tragedy is a big factor, like “Titanic.”

Granted, these kinds of romances have their unique appeal, but they’re often lacking in depth and development. That’s where “Crazy/Beautiful” really shines. It gives amazing depth to Nicole and Carlos’ relationship. It actually goes through a process, not unlike the one actual people use when they fall in love.

First, they meet and feel an attraction. Then, they start exploring that attraction. They start learning about each other, from their hopes and dreams to their past and failures. They actually learn about each other and even help each other, something failed romances in the real and fictional world often fail to do.

Then, there are the sexy moments. Yes, there are many sexy moments in “Crazy/Beautiful” that men and women alike can appreciate. There are scenes where both characters get naked. It’s a time when Kirsten Dunst’s sex appeal was at its peak. There are scenes where she’s walking around in her underwear and it’s a true sight to behold.

It helps add to another important element in “Crazy/Beautiful” that stands out. It’s very sex positive. Throughout the movie, the sexy moments Carlos and Nicole share aren’t full of complications or reservations. They’re just sweet, intimate moments. Some are loving. Some are just two horny teenagers wanting to get laid. It’s never shown in a negative light. They might be the most sex positive themes outside of the “Deadpool” movie.

Beyond the sex and the chemistry, the biggest and arguably most important element that makes “Crazy/Beautiful” my favorite romance movie is how strong the romance becomes. It’s not enough that Carlos and Nicole share attraction and sexual chemistry. It’s how they actually complement each other, making one another stronger in the end.

What really makes that connection stand out shows towards the end when they each show that they’re willing to sacrifice for each other. They’re willing to step off the path they’ve laid for themselves, find each other, and forge a new path together. That’s the kind of sacrifice real couples learn to make, but are rarely shown in movies that don’t rip-off “Titanic.” I’ll give a moment for “Avatar” fans to stop gritting their teeth.

When all is said and done, Nicole and Carlos are both better because of their love for each other. It’s not just because they’re have someone to have sex with that they love. Their lives objectively improve. Carlos realizes his dream of being a pilot. Nicole develops a better relationship with her family. Their love, and all its sexy chemistry, is a net gain for everybody.

It may not appeal to those who think every love story needs to have an element of tragedy. There are moments in “Crazy/Beautiful” where the story could’ve taken a tragic turn. That doesn’t happen and that’s a good thing. It makes for a satisfying, genuine, heart-felt ending.

You can easily see Nicole and Carlos getting married, having kids, and still having hot sex. It’s a romance that feels truly complete. It has that Hollywood sex appeal, but it’s genuine enough that you can easily see it happening in the real world.

That’s a big part of why this movie appealed to me so much when I first saw it. It gave the impression that love could exist in the real and fictional world. It could be sexy, intimate, and powerful without aliens, robots, or super powers. To someone who had grown up on comic books and cartoons, that was a revolutionary idea for me.

While “Crazy/Beautiful” will never go down in history as an epic love story, its ability to be romantic, sexy, and real helps set it apart. It presents a romance that feels achievable in the real world. I believe that we all need that sort of thing every now and then. As fun as epic love stories can be, sometimes it’s refreshing to know that two ordinary people from different walks of life can fall in love and have hot sex.

Maybe there will come a day when I see another romance movie that tops “Crazy/Beautiful” in all the relevant ways. While “Deadpool” came close, “Crazy/Beautiful” still holds a special place in my heart and my pants. It helped influence me in my passion for writing erotica/romance. I sincerely hope its impact helps me craft something as romantic and sexy.

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Quality Marriage Advice (From Bill Murray)

In general, you should never take advice from celebrities. That’s not to say that all celebrities are stupid, although some are way dumber than anyone famous should ever be. The problem is that most celebrities are so detached from reality that their ability to understand and relate to 98 percent of the human population is hopelessly destroyed.

Then, there’s Bill Murray, also known to the internet as Bill fucking Murray. To say he’s a unique character would be like saying porn stars are somewhat lacking in modesty. He’s a Hollywood legend and for good reason.

He’s been making movies and starring in TV shows for 40 years. He famously doesn’t have an agent. He doesn’t demand the celebrity treatment wherever he goes. He’s also been known to wander into random places, including karaoke bars and the goddamn White House.

There’s no question. Bill Murray is a character unto himself. So when he gives advice, it’s worth listening to. While there are all sorts of crazy stories about his antics, one in particular stands out, especially for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

It’s a somewhat famous story involving a bachelor party that he randomly wandered into. It happened back in 2014 in Charleston, South Carolina. The circumstances are somewhat unclear, as is often the case whenever Bill Murray wanders into a scene. However, at some point in the process, he gives the groom, his friends, and everyone everywhere who thinks about getting married some timeless advice.

“If you have someone that you think is The One, don’t do… don’t just sort of think in your ordinary mind, ‘Okay, let’s make a date. Let’s plan this and make a party and get married.’ Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK, and you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.”

Excuse me while I wipe away some tears of joy, astonishment, and wisdom from my eyes. Take a moment to think about what this former Ghostbuster and weatherman is saying. It’s not just revealing. It’s downright profound.

When most people fall in love, the natural inclination is to try and make everything easier. When we’re in love, we tend to do anything and everything to facilitate that love so it can blossom. I’ve certainly done that in my own relationships. I’ve seen friends and close family do the same. It makes sense. You find someone to love and you try to make it easy for both of you.

Bill Murray, on the other hand, is saying to do the opposite and weirdly enough, it makes even more sense. He’s telling us to not make things easier. He encourages us to make things harder and to put ourselves and our lovers in new, stressful situations. By traveling beyond the places we can control, you and your lover are going to see each other at their worst and least pleasant.

fucking bill murray 11 Bill F$%^ing Murray (24 Photos)

Therein lies the key, though. It’s something only a man of Bill Murray’s experience, persona, and wisdom could possibly uncover. When you’re in love with someone, it’s easy to make it work when you go out of your way to avoid new, stressful situations. The real challenge comes when things are difficult. That’s when you find out who you and your lover truly are.

By putting yourself in those stressful situations, be it travel or new experiences, you find out just how well you work together. If you only work when things are good, then that’s a problem because things aren’t always going to be good. That’s just not the nature of life in general.

If, however, you and your lover can make it through all those difficulties and still want to marry each other, then that’s as clear a sign as you’ll ever get. You and that person love each other. Your love is the strong, special kind that I seek to capture in my novels. You don’t need a fancy wedding or an elaborate honeymoon to vindicate your love. Just get married at the airport. Your love has already proven itself.

fucking bill murray 5 Bill F$%^ing Murray (24 Photos)

Say what you want about celebrities and the terrible influence they have on our culture. There are still a select few that make our world and our love lives inherently richer. Bill Murray is definitely among those select few.

So to all those in love, or just those who enjoy writing about it, please heed the advice of Hollywood’s most unusual characters. Being in love and knowing whether that love is real can be hard. However, when you’re have the wisdom of Bill Murray guiding you, our hearts and our funny bones are inherently stronger.

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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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