On Gene Wilder, Why We Go to the Movies, and Why We Don’t

Willy Wonka2016 will be known, among other things, as the year death became a serial killer targeting celebrities. The most recent, as least at the time that I’m writing this, was one of the ones that hit me hardest: Gene Wilder. Although his body of work was relatively small, the movies he made in his lifetime were some of my favorites: Young Frankenstein, The Producers, The Little Prince… and of course, the two films that AMC Theaters showcased this weekend, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Blazing Saddles. When my wife, Erin, told me that they were going to play these films, I knew I’d married the right woman. She was as anxious to go as I was, even though unlike me, she’s not a huge fan of Blazing Saddles, which just goes to prove that marriage is about loving your partner even when they’re wrong.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an area where there are a lot of small cinemas or retrospective houses, and the Fathom Events/TCM screenings of classic movies are usually on weeknights, when I need to get up early for work the next day. It’s not often that we get a chance to see an older movie on the big screen, and despite the increasing hassle that accompanies going to a movie theater, that’s still the best way to see a movie. I was immediately excited for this double feature.

Willy Wonka Movie PosterWe filed in to see Willy Wonka at the 5 p.m. show. The theater was surprisingly full, and I would guess about 75 percent of the audience were parents and their children. You expect this with the latest Disney release, or whatever Dreamworks movie is currently featuring a rubbery character using the same facial expression as every other one, but it was a little surprising to see so many kids for Willy Wonka. Obviously it’s a movie that’s tailor-made for children, but it’s also 45 years old. I know from experience how difficult it can be to get kids to watch an older movie.

The lights went down, the film began, and within five minutes I was reminded of why I go to the movies.

Most of those parents with their kids were, I would guess, about my age or younger – which is to say, they were all born in the 45 years since this movie was originally released. Although I would guess that virtually every adult (and many of the children) in the theater had seen this movie, I would also guess that almost nobody in the room had seen it on the big screen before. (I myself remember vividly the first time I saw this movie: on one of those rolling TV carts they used to wheel around elementary schools on those days they needed to keep the kids quiet for a while.) The kids were enraptured. They laughed when Grampa Joe went through his antics of pulling himself out of the over-occupied bed. They gasped at the intimidating presence of Mr. Slugworth. They cheered when Gene Wilder, in all his glory, limped weakly from the door to his factory before performing a front flip at the gate and teaching them a valuable lesson: you can’t always trust an adult.

It was glorious. At least three generations of fans laughing and clapping and even occasionally singing along to a movie that predates any of us… all of us together. This is what you can never replicate at home. It doesn’t matter how big your TV, how expensive your sound system, how advanced your home theater setup might be, it’s no substitute for the shared experience of seeing a beautiful film with dozens or even hundreds of other people, glorying together in the whimsical ministrations of a genius like Gene Wilder.  When the film ended, Erin even reported she overheard a little girl having an existential crisis over the fact that Charlie had blonde hair instead of brown. Her mother finally asked her, “are you thinking of the movie with Johnny Depp?” And the child, adorably, said, “Who?”

This doesn’t happen when you’re watching a Blu-Ray.

Blazing SaddlesThe movie ended and we filed out, allowed the theater staff to clean, and walked back in for Blazing Saddles. The families were gone now, replaced by adult fans. Blazing Saddles, if you somehow have never seen it, is a brilliant motion picture. Mel Brooks takes Wilder and Cleavon Little through an hour and a half of systematically dismantling racism and prejudice, while simultaneously cranking out one golden comedic moment after another. I’ve probably seen this movie ten times, but the jokes still land perfectly. And it is a testament to the brilliance of Brooks, Little, and Wilder that I still loved every frame of this movie despite the fact that the theater in which we saw it was littered with complete assholes.

You know who I’m talking about here. I’m talking about those people who pay money to sit in a movie theater and behave as if they’re on their couch at home. The ones who turn on their cell phones in the middle of the movie. The ones who keep kicking your seat. Worst of all, the comedians who think we want to hear them recite the jokes along with the movie. It’s one thing if you’re going to a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or something else where audience participation is encouraged. But this was just a simple screening, not an event specifically structured for dedicated fans. You can’t take it for granted that everybody else in the theater has seen it before. For someone seeing a movie for the first time, someone reciting the jokes along with the movie is irritating. Someone saying the punchline a second before the movie is unforgivable. And reading the signs from the sight gags out loud should be punishable by being strapped into your seat and forced to sit through a two-day repeat marathon of The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure.

It was still a magnificent movie, of course, and it’s a shame that chances to see things like this are so rare. These days, making any movie is hard. Making a great comedy is almost impossible. People whose movie-going time is limited choose to spend their theater money on the big action pieces and special effects spectacles, figuring they’ll catch the smaller movies and comedies on Netflix. As a result, the smaller movies and comedies don’t make as much money, and as a result, they don’t make as many of them. The comedies that are made are picked apart and dissected from the script stage to the final cut. Spineless executives and bean-counters demand changes in the name of political correctness and appealing to increasingly-important foreign markets, which makes for an even bigger mess since – while an explosion is an explosion anywhere in the world – a joke that kills in Patterson, New Jersey will die on the vine if you try to tell it in China or Japan. So when the studios start giving notes, that’s the stuff that gets chopped.

Blazing Saddles, the masterpiece of 1974, wouldn’t stand a chance of being made in 2016.

The worst part of this, of course, is that comedies benefit more than any type of film by being seen in a theater. You can get hyped up by a superhero movie by yourself. Horror movies may be at their best when sitting on the couch cuddling someone special. But that’s not how comedies work. Laughter is infectious, my friends. One person laughing gives someone else permission to do so. Hundreds laughing is an epidemic of joy. Jokes that I’ve heard a dozen times, jokes that elicit the barest chuckle when I watch them on TV, had me splitting my guts when we watched them in the theater with other fans. It’s why going to a RiffTrax Live event is more fun than watching the digital download at home. It’s why I paid for my wife and I to watch two movies I already own on DVD. And it’s why, if my local theater decides to show Duck Soup, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, or History of the World Part I, I’ll be first in line.

Inconsiderate moviegoers aren’t enough to kill it, but they do diminish the joy of the experience, and that’s a shame. It says a lot that the children who joined us for Willy Wonka were, by far, better behaved than the adults who watched Blazing Saddles.

But the double feature did kindle something in me. I’ll be on the lookout for those classic screenings more often now. And when a true masterpiece hits the screen, even if it’s something I’ve seen a hundred times, I’ll do my best to be there.

UNRELATED ADDENDUM

While I have your attention, friends, I’m gearing up for a new Reel to Reel project. This time, in a deliberate effort to distract myself from all the misery in the world, I’ve decided to write about the most important comedies of all time.

That begs the question, of course, what ARE those?

I’m not just talking about the FUNNIEST movies, although of course the films that make the cut should certainly be that. I mean the most IMPORTANT comedies — those that have left the deepest cultural impact, that influenced the future generations the most, that started trends, that launched the careers of the greats. So I ask you, using those criteria, what movies should make the cut? I’ve started a poll in the Facebook group for the All New Showcase podcast, and I’d like to invite you all to help me create my list. Please, vote for as many movies as you want, and feel free to add as many options as you like.

Reel to Reel Comedy Poll

What I watched in… August 2016

Room

Favorite of the Month: Room (2015)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Kinsey (2004), B+
  2. Suicide Squad (2016), B+
  3. The Lobster (2015), A-
  4. Star Trek Beyond (2016), A
  5. Eegah (1962), F; MST3K Riff, B
  6. Mothra (1961), B; RiffTrax Riff, B
  7. Final Girl (2015), C+
  8. The Little Prince (2015), A-
  9. Fantastic Planet (1973), B
  10. Witching and Bitching (2013), B+
  11. The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959), B
  12. Room (2015), A
  13. The Dark Power (1985), F; RiffTrax Riff, A-
  14. Welcome to Leith (2015), B+
  15. Freaks of Nature (2015), A-
  16. The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), A
  17. Equinox (1970), C
  18. Big Eyes (2014), B+
  19. The Raven (1963), D

What I watched in… July 2016

star-trek-beyond-poster-international

Favorite of the Month: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Godzilla Vs. Destoroyah (1995), B
  2. Godzilla Against MechaGodzilla (2002), B+
  3. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), B
  4. Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus (2000), B
  5. Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla (1994), C+
  6. Godzilla (2014), A
  7. Red Dawn (1984), B; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  8. Bone Tomahawk (2015), A-
  9. The Neverending Story (1984), A-
  10. Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1985), F; MST3K Riff, A
  11. Ring of Terror (1962), F; MST3K Riff, B
  12. Monster A-Go Go (1965), F; MST3K Riff, B-
  13. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), A-
  14. Star Trek (2009), A
  15. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), B
  16. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), B
  17. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), A+
  18. Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), B+
  19. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), B+
  20. Ghostbusters (2016), C-
  21. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), C-
  22. Star Trek Beyond (2016), A
  23. Batman: The Killing Joke (2016) B+
  24. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), A-
  25. Star Trek: Generations (1994), C+
  26. Star Trek: First Contact (1996), A-
  27. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), C+
  28. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), B-
  29. LEGO DC Comics Superheroes: Justice League-Gotham City Breakout (2016), B
  30. Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), B
  31. Back to the Beach (1987), B
  32. Summer Rental (1985), B-
  33. Scooby-Doo (2002), C+

What I watched in… June 2016

Zootopia

Favorite of the Month: Zootopia (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Barbershop (2002), B
  2. Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004), B+
  3. Beauty Shop (2005), B-
  4. Extraordinary Tales (2013), B+
  5. The Man From UNCLE (2015), B-
  6. Q, the Winged Serpent (1982), D
  7. Cujo (1983), C
  8. Brain of Blood (1971), F; Cinematic Titanic Riff, C
  9. The Corpse Vanishes (1942), D; MST3K Riff, B
  10. Castle Freak (1995), D+
  11. Zootopia (2016), A+
  12. Ghost in the Shell (1995), B
  13. Silver Linings Playbook (2012), A-
  14. Mystery Men (1999), B
  15. We Are Twisted F*cking Sister! (2014), B
  16. Project Almanac (2015), B+
  17. Unfriended (2014), B+
  18. The Bat People (1974), F, MST3K Riff, B
  19. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), C-
  20. Fast and Furious (2009), B-
  21. The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971), F
  22. The Giver (2014), B
  23. All Work and All Play (2015), B-
  24. Buffalo Rider (1978), F; RiffTrax Riff B
  25. Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs (2008), B
  26. The LEGO Movie (2014), A+
  27. Colossus and the Headhunters (1963), D; MST3K Riff, B
  28. Finding Dory (2016), A
  29. The Monster Squad (1987), B
  30. The Last Shark (1981), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  31. The Lost World (1960), B-
  32. Equilibrium (2002), D
  33. Addicted to Fresno (2015), B
  34. Fire Maidens of Outer Space (1956), D; MST3K Riff, B
  35. Code Name: Diamond Head (1977), F; MST3K Riff, B
  36. The Phantom Planet (1961), D, MST3K Riff, B
  37. Tormented (1960), F; MST3K Riff, B
  38. Sleepaway Camp (1983), D+
  39. Independence Day (1996), A
  40. Independence Day: Resurgence (2006), B

What I Watched In… May 2016

Captain America-Civil War Poster

Favorite of the month: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

1. Paradox (2016), D
2. Man Up (2015), B-
3. Finders Keepers (2015), B+
4. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), A
5. Captain America: Civil War (2016), A+
6. Dumbo (1941), B
7. The Blob (1988) C+
8. Fantastic Four (2015), F
9. Cloverfield (2008), B+
10. The Nice Guys (2016), A-
11. The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014), B+
12. Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One (1968), C
13. House (1977), D
14. Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
15. LEGO Scooby-Doo!: Haunted Hollywood (2016), B
16. Goosebumps (2015), B
17. Spaced Invaders (1990), D
18. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959); F, RiffTrax Riff, B
19. Toy Story 3 (2010), A+
20. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), B-
21. Almost There (2015), B

In addition to the list, this month my podcast (the All New Showcase) reviewed Captain America: Civil War in Episode 322: Free Comic Book Day 2016.

What I watched in… April 2016

Hush_2016_poster

Favorite of the Month: Hush (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. The Phantom Tollbooth (1970), B+
  2. April Fool’s Day (1986), D
  3. Fateful Findings (2013), F
  4. Jack and the Beanstalk (1952), B
  5. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), A-
  6. Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1990), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
  7. House on Haunted Hill (1959), B-; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  8. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), A
  9. My Dinner With Andre (1981), B
  10. The Blob (1958), B-
  11. The Beginning of the End (1957), D; MST3K Riff, A
  12. The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway (2011), B
  13. Divergent (2014), B
  14. Anastasia (1997), B+
  15. Cube (1997), B
  16. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991), D
  17. Cube 2: Hypercube (2002), B
  18. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), A
  19. Cube Zero (2004), B-
  20. Astro Boy (2009), B-
  21. Hush (2016), A-
  22. Abar, the First Black Superman (1977), D
  23. Criminal (2016), C+
  24. Justice League Vs. Teen Titans (2016), B+
  25. Masters of the Universe (1987), C
  26. Time Bandits (1981), A
  27. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), B-
  28. Night of the Living Dead (1968), A; RiffTrax Riff, B

What I Watched In… March 2016

Batman V Superman Movie Poster

Favorite of the Month: Batman V Superman-Dawn of Justice (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Amadeus (1984), A-
  2. LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League-Cosmic Clash (2016), B+
  3. Age of Consent (1969), B
  4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), B
  5. The Guest House (2012), D
  6. H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (2004), C
  7. Time Lapse (2015), B
  8. The Fast and the Furious (2001), B
  9. Batman: Bad Blood (2016) B+
  10. Vertigo (1958), B+
  11. The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (1995), B
  12. Chaos on the Bridge (2014), B+
  13. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), A-
  14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), A+
  15. Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell (1988), D
  16. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday (2016), B
  17. The Passion (2016), A
  18. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), C
  19. Batman: Year One (2011), A
  20. Wonder Woman (2009), B+
  21. Man of Steel (2013), A
  22. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), A

In addition to the list, this month my podcast (the All New Showcase) reviewed two of the new releases. Click on the links to listen to our thoughts on 10 Cloverfield Lane and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

What I Watched In… February 2016

HHGG-DVD

Favorite of the Month: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Frankenstein (1910), B
  2. The Shadow Strikes (1937), C
  3. Grey Gardens (1975), C+
  4. Mitchell (1975), F; MST3K Riff, A
  5. Turbo Kid (2015), B
  6. Cooties (2014), B+
  7. Dracula Untold (2014), C-
  8. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012), A
  9. Stagecoach (1939), A
  10. Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), B-
  11. Master Ninja I (1984), F; MST3K Riff, B
  12. Master Ninja II (1984), F; MST3K Riff, B
  13. Deadpool (2016), B
  14. War of the Worlds (1953), B
  15. Home (2015), B
  16. The Witch (2016), B
  17. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981 Miniseries), A-
  18. Inside Out (2015), A
  19. Batman: The Movie (1966), C

Learning the Wrong Lesson From Deadpool

(Reblogged from All New Showcase…)

Deadpool Movie PosterIn case you somehow missed it, the Deadpool movie was released last weekend and immediately began shattering box office records: best February opening of all time, best opening ever for an R-rated movie, best opening ever for a first-time director (that’d be Tim Miller), and it came in third in the swimsuit competition. And of course, as always, the movie industry began to thoughtfully and meticulously scrutinize the film’s success to determine what qualities helped it reap the bounty, then implement carefully-considered strategies to create new content that may also be prosperous for the studios.

Ha! I’m kidding, of course. No, the movie studios immediately concluded that the American public wants superhero movies to be full of F-words and Ryan Reynolds’s ass. So today, in what could easily be the first in an infinite series of columns, I would like to discuss how 20th Century Fox – and probably every other major studio – has completely missed the point of what made Deadpool kick butt.

Let’s start with what is probably the least significant part of its success: the timing. Like I said, Deadpool’s $135 million broke the record for the highest February opening of all time. But look at the competition: Zoolander 2, the sequel nobody asked for, and How to Be Single, a movie built around Rebel Wilson playing the only character she ever plays, and who wasn’t even entertaining the first time she did it. That’s not to say Deadpool wasn’t a good movie – in fact, that’s my whole point. January and February, traditionally, have been cinematic graveyards where studios try to bury movies they don’t think anybody will want to see in a season where they don’t think people want to go to the movies. I’ve long believed this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not that people don’t want to go to the movies in February, it’s that the studios don’t give them movies worth watching. Deadpool demonstrates that if you make a movie people want to see, they’ll come out to see it no matter when it is released.

WolverineAnd that brings us to the second question: why was Deadpool a movie people wanted to see? The blood? We have the news for that. The nudity? We have the Internet. The profanity? We have public high schools. All of these are easy answers, and all of these are wrong. And yet, when Fox immediately followed the box office number announcement by saying the third Wolverine movie will be rated R, they’re essentially saying that’s the reason that Deadpool worked. This is incredibly small-minded.

(To be fair, making an R-rated Wolverine was at least under discussion as far back as the first solo movie starring the character. It’s not a new idea. But man, they made sure to let everybody know that after the weekend box office closed, didn’t they?)

The reason those elements worked in Deadpool is because all of the hyper-violence and irreverent dialogue helped to create a tone that is faithful to the character. We didn’t want to see violence, necessarily, we just wanted to see the Deadpool we love. In fact, I’m going to be a little controversial here: I don’t even think Deadpool needed to be an R-rated movie. I don’t mind that it was, I very much enjoyed it, but despite what a lot of people seem to think the majority of his comic book appearances have not been full of F-bombs and boobs. (Sure, the violence is there, but the MPAA is way less concerned with violence than sex or language. Chop off all the limbs you want, but God forbid you show a nipple.)

What are they going to do in an R-rated Wolverine movie that will make it better than the first two? Curse more? The word he’s most associated with in the comics is “bub.” Bury him in naked women? Wolverine’s romantic relationships are classically tortured. Sure the fighting may be more explicit, but does anybody really think X-Men Origins: Wolverine would have been a good movie if only they showed more blood when Hugh Jackman cut off Ryan Reynolds’s head?

Superman the MovieThe best superhero movies (and in fact, most of the best adaptations of any kind) are those that maintain the spirit and feel of the source material: Richard Donner’s Superman, the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe work for precisely this reason. People who have read about a character for years – decades even – don’t want to see a version of a character whipped up by committee, they want to see the version they love. (This, of course, will cause debate when a character has been around long enough that there are multiple valid interpretations, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Compare that to the most epic failure of recent years, the 2015 Fantastic Four. The movie takes a comic whose best stories are about a family of explorers and turns them into a militarized unit who barely share any screen time. Director Josh Trank maintains that studio meddling sank his movie. I tend to think that when the director reportedly tells his actors not to read the comics the movie is based on, there isn’t much more a studio can do to screw it up.

Batman-The Killing 1Let’s not forget that tone is dependent on the individual story as well. There was a lot of buzz last year when the producers of the upcoming Batman: The Killing Joke animated movie announced they were given permission by the studio to go for an R-rated film. It doesn’t have to be, but this is the story that forever entrenched the Joker as a true icon of evil. Gone was the bank robbing clown of the Silver Age – now he was a horrific, unhinged psychopath acting out on a twisted fixation with Batman by torturing his friends. It would be hard to tell that story faithfully and still maintain a PG-13. But that doesn’t mean a Ben Affleck Batman movie or an animated version of the first appearance of Bat-Mite should suddenly be rated R.

All of this is to say that, yes, you probably could make a good R-rated Wolverine movie, but it won’t be good because it’s rated R. The other elements need to be there too.

But what about all of the people who enjoyed Deadpool but don’t read comics? They don’t know if the depiction on screen is faithful to the comic book, and most of them wouldn’t care if they did. So why did they come out in force to see this movie? For one thing, of course, the marketing campaign was as brilliant as the marketing for John Carter was abysmal, but good marketing will only get you so far. People also liked the movie. Why? Obviously, the answer for each individual person will differ, but if I were to venture a guess for the majority, I would say it’s because it’s something different. Look, I would be perfectly happy all day long if they just took the scripts of my favorite comics and put them on screen in front of me, but I also know I’m a 10th-level nerd and what I want probably doesn’t apply to the public at large.

Spider-Man BittenWhat does apply, however, is that people get tired of seeing the same thing. Origin stories, for example. Not just comic fans, but viewers in general are done with origin stories. Nobody needs to see Krypton blow up, Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down, or Peter Parker bitten by a spider ever again. We get it.

Even with less iconic characters, origin stories are largely unnecessary at this point. If a character in a movie is a cop, a firefighter, or a baseball player, people don’t demand we spend half the movie explaining how we get to that point before the real plot begins. Granted, superheroes follow a less conventional path than those other occupations, but at this point the public is familiar enough with the tropes that all but the most convoluted of origins can usually be dealt with in a quick flashback or a few lines of expository dialogue.

“But Blake,” you say, “Deadpool was an origin movie. Doesn’t that contradict your point?” Man, you can be kind of a jerk sometimes. But no, it doesn’t contradict my point. I said that origins are unnecessary, not that they can’t be done well. Audiences – myself included – will accept even the most tired premise if the execution is entertaining and original enough.

M Payoff 1shtAnd that brings me to the most important part of Deadpool’s success. It didn’t matter that it was an origin, because it still felt different from any other superhero movie of the last 17 years. (I consider the modern era of superhero movie to have begun with 1999’s Blade. You know, that other R-rated Marvel movie everybody seems to have forgotten about.) Look at the major successes since then. After the first few years, when superheroes were still a novelty, the biggest movies all brought something new to the table. Iron Man was cocky, witty, and did away with that secret identity jazz right away. It was unique at the time. What’s more, the after-credits stinger (another novelty in 2008) opened the doors for the then-revolutionary Marvel Cinematic Universe. That eventually led to Avengers, another mega-hit, because we had never before seen six superheroes from four different movies come together as a team. The best movies of the eight years since Iron Man all bring something different to the superhero. Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller. The Dark Knight was an epic crime drama. And none of them – even the ones that were sequels to other movies – felt like anything else we had ever seen.

SuicideSquadPoster-181c2In an odd way, this actually makes Suicide Squad the most interesting superhero movie for the rest of 2016. I’m the most die-hard Superman fan you’ll find, and I’ve been waiting to see him on screen with Batman and Wonder Woman since I learned how to read. I couldn’t be more excited for that movie. But Suicide Squad is the first time, as far as I can remember, that a superhero movie has actually starred the villains. (You could make an argument for Magneto and Mystique in the most recent X-Men movies, but the moral ambiguity in those films is so thick that nobody could hear you anyway.) We’ve seen villain-starring comics plenty of times, but it’s never really happened on screen. That means the success or failure of this movie will be one for the books. The trailer was very well-received and people seem to be excited about it.

Which means the weekend after it comes out, expect Fox to announce a new X-Factor movie, starring the classic line-up of Sabertooth, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike, Toad, and Galactus. Because they just don’t seem to get it.

What I Watched In… January 2016

Rear Window

Favorite of the Month: Rear Window (1954)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014), B+
  2. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), A-
  3. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel (2009), B+
  4. Transcendence (2014), C-
  5. Galaxy Quest (1999), A
  6. Fever Lake (1996), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
  7. Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937), B
  8. Enter the Void (2009), D
  9. Hell and Back (2015), B
  10. The Revenant (2015), B+
  11. The Magnificent Seven (1960), A
  12. Rear Window (1954), A
  13. Icebreaker (2000), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  14. The Room (2003), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  15. Jaws (1975), A
  16. Alien (1979), A
  17. The Phantom Planet (1961), D, MST3K Riff, B
  18. Jupiter Ascending (2015), D