Category Archives: Geek Punditry

What I Watched In… January 2017

wishful-drinking

Favorite of the Month: Wishful Drinking

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. Yoga Hosers (2016), C
  2. The Wild World of Batwoman (1966), D; MST3K Riff, B
  3. Girl in Gold Boots (1968), D; MST3K Riff, B-
  4. The Killer Shrews (1959), D+; MST3K Riff, B
  5. The Hateful Eight (2015), A-
  6. Africa Screams (1949), C+
  7. Wishful Drinking (2010), A
  8. Pod People (1983), F; MST3K Riff, B+
  9. House of Frankenstein (1944), C+
  10. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), A-
  11. R.O.T.O.R. (1987), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  12. Youth (2015), B+
  13. Jim Gaffigan: Cinco (2017), B+

Looking ahead to 2017…

We’ve got 12 months of movies ahead of us. Now that we’ve looked back at 2016, let’s see what’s coming out this year that’s got me excited…

  • The LEGO Batman Movie (Feb. 10). The first LEGO Movie was one of the most unexpected gems of the last few years. The trailers for this first spinoff look to be unfettered fun.
  • John Wick Chapter 2 (Feb. 10). Another unexpected hit was the first John Wick movie. I can’t wait for the sequel.
  • Logan (March 3). Hugh Jackman’s final turn as Wolverine looks like it’s going to be a much darker, more intense take on the character than we’ve seen before.
  • Kong: Skull Island (March 10). With Legendary planning an MCU-style connection between this and their Godzilla franchise, I’m really looking forward to the new take on King Kong.
  • Beauty and the Beast (March 17). Disney’s rash of live-action remakes of their classic animated films has been hit or miss for me, but Emma Watson as Belle is perfect casting. I’ve got high hopes for this one.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5). After a thrilling, joyful first film, I’m hoping director James Gunn can do the same with this one.
  • Wonder Woman (June 2). It’s almost a crime that it’s taken this long for there to be a live-action Wonder Woman movie. Gal Gadot stole every scene of Batman V Superman, and I can’t wait to see this one.
  • The Mummy (June 9). Universal is hoping to revive its classic monster franchise with (again) an MCU-style shared universe. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it works.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7). Marvel and Sony coming to an agreement for Spider-Man is the best thing that could have happened for the character. Tom Holland rocked in Captain America: Civil War, and I’m hoping for more of that in this film.
  • War For the Planet of the Apes (July 14). The first two films in the new Apes franchise were phenomenal — deep, thoughtful films with mesmerizing performances. I feel very good about this next one.
  • Dunkirk (July 21). Christopher Nolan doing a World War I epic. How can you not be excited?
  • The Dark Tower (July 28). Stephen King’s self-proclaimed “Magnum Opus” is a work that has a need personal meaning for me. I want this movie to be great. The casting is spot-on, although the information that’s come out so far leaves me wondering exactly what angle they’re intending to take on the material.
  • It (Sept. 8). Another Stephen King adaptation. Although not as personal to me, it’s still a great book that had an okay TV adaptation. Can any film truly capture the novel?
  • Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3). Although the Thor movies gave the MCU its most charismatic villain, they aren’t quite as memorable as the rest of the franchise. This time out, having Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange along for the ride may finally give us a great Thor movie.
  • Justice League (Nov. 17). I’ve been waiting for this movie since I was a kid, and the promotional materials have looked fantastic. I can’t wait.
  • Star Wars Episode VIII (Dec. 15). Little independent movie. You probably haven’t heard of it.

2016 in Film

rogue-one-imax-poster

Favorite of the Year: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Once again, it’s a new year, and that means it’s time to take a look back at the releases of the previous year. I managed to clock in a a lot of movies in 2016, although as always there are still several I haven’t seen yet (Arrival, Shin Godzilla, Moana, and many more). So as always, consider this list incomplete. It’s every 2016 movie I’ve seen so far, including TV movies and direct-to-DVD fare, ranked from my favorite to least favorite, with commentary where I find it necessary.

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — Two years in a row, a Star Wars movie has claimed my top spot. Under its new Disney home, Lucasfilm is on fire.
  • Doctor Strange — Amazingly, for a character I’ve never fully connected with in the comics, Benedict Cumberbatch has turned in one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe performances to date.
  • Captain America: Civil War — Although they may as well have called this Avengers 3, the third Captain America movie was a blast. I especially liked the fact that this time around the stakes were much more personal, rather than a save-the-world scenario. It was a nice change of pace.
  • Zootopia — This was a huge surprise to me. Not that it was good (John Lasseter taking over Disney animation is the best thing to happen to Disney animation since Walt Disney himself), but how good it was. Funny, sweet, and surprisingly poignant.
  • For the Love of Spock — Adam Nimoy directs this touching documentary about his father, Leonard.
  • Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice — I don’t care what the critics say, I had a great thrill seeing DC’s trinity on screen for the first time, and I can’t wait to see Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — I felt the same way about this as Rogue One. The studios have learned that if you can make the universe itself the star instead of a particular character, you can make a franchise last much longer. This was a fun addition to J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World.
  • Star Trek Beyond — It’s rare that the third film in a franchise is the best, but this was the most exciting, most “Star Trek”-like film in the Kelvin Timeline to date.
  • Finding Dory — Lovely follow-up to Finding Nemo, with a heartfelt message.
  • The Nice Guys — Like so many people, I loved this movie, and wish that it had found a larger audience in theaters.
  • Deadpool
  • Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan-Film Ever Made — You may have heard the story of a couple of kids who spent years working on an amateur shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is that story.
  • Batman: The Killing Joke
  • Hush — Tense little thriller about a home invasion in the home of a deaf woman.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane — One of the year’s best surprises.
  • Suicide Squad — Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was fantastic. The rest of the movie was pretty good.
  • Hail, Caesar!
  • The Witch
  • Independence Day: Resurgence
  • DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year — Cute direct-to-DVD movie starring DC’s latest franchise. I love the fact that this series exists, and so does my 6-year-old niece.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse — Weakest of the “First Class” trilogy, but that still places it ahead of the likes of X-Men: The Last Stand or the first two Wolverine movies.
  • Keanu
  • Ghostheads
  • Justice League Vs. Teen Titans
  • Holidays — Fun, if uneven, horror anthology.
  • Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday
  • Batman: Bad Blood
  • LEGO DC Super Heroes: Justice League-Cosmic Clash
  • LEGO DC Super Heroes: Justice League-Gotham City Breakout
  • Mascots
  • The Jungle Book — I know a lot of people were blown away by this, but it just didn’t do it for me. Admittedly, it may just be because I’ve never been able to get into talking animal movies. It’s a weird hang-up of mine, I admit.
  • Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders — Animated film featuring Adam West and Burt Ward, and damn, do they show their age. When Batman and Robin sound like they’re in their 70s, maybe nostalgia isn’t enough.
  • Dwarvenaut
  • Criminal
  • Grease Live!
  • Dead 7 — Weak-ass SyFy movie starring a bunch of washed-up boy band members in a zombie western.
  • The Neon Demon — Probably the most controversial opinion I’ll have here. The latest from writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn of Drive and Only God Forgives, and like those other films, I found this unbearably dull and overblown.
  • Ghostbusters — A weak script and a weak director tanked this remake.
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again
  • Paradox

What I’ve Watched In… December 2016

rogue-one-imax-poster

Favorite of the Month: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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. I Am Santa Claus (2014), A
  2. A Christmas Carol (2009), B-
  3. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1983), B+
  4. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), D; RiffTrax Live Riff, B
  5. The Night Before (2015), B-
  6. Santa Claus (1959), F; Rifftrax Live Riff, B
  7. A Muppet Family Christmas (1987), A
  8. Snow (2004), B
  9. Snow 2: Brain Freeze (2008), B
  10. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978), A
  11. Christmas With Rifftrax: Santa’s Village of Madness, B
  12. The Shop Around the Corner (1940), A
  13. Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (1999), B+
  14. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998), D
  15. Christmas Eve (2015), A-
  16. Scrooge (1970), B+
  17. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), A-
  18. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), A-
  19. Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979), B-
  20. Trading Places (1983), B
  21. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), A
  22. A Very Murray Christmas (2015), A-
  23. Marvel Super Hero Adventures: Frost Fight (2015), B
  24. The Ref (1994), B+
  25. An American Christmas Carol (1979), B+
  26. Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest For Pappy (2004), C
  27. Ebbie (1995), D
  28. Scrooge and Marley (2001), C-
  29. Die Hard (1988), A
  30. Home Alone (1990), A
  31. Santa’s Christmas Circus (1966), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  32. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), A+
  33. Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), A
  34. Miracle on 34th Street (1947), A
  35. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), A+
  36. A Christmas Story (1983), A
  37. In the Good Old Summertime (1949), B
  38. Captain Phillips (2013), B+
  39. Hail, Caesar! (2016), B+
  40. Life of Pi (2012), A-
  41. 12 Years a Slave (2013), A
  42. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016), C
  43. Night Shadows (1984), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  44. No Country For Old Men (2007), A-
  45. Keanu (2016), B
  46. 12 Angry Men (1957), A+
  47. Wild Things (1998), B
  48. The Sting (1973), A-
  49. Singin’ in the Rain (1952), A+
  50. The Jungle Book (2016), C+
  51. For the Love of Spock (2016), A
  52. Ghostbusters (1984), A
  53. Ghostbusters II (1989), B

Carrie Fisher

leiasupportsgunrights-anhIt’s not unusual for an actor to try to distance themselves from their more famous roles, afraid of getting typecast. Elizabeth Berkley went from squeaky clean Saved By the Bell to Showgirls. Steve Carell got away from The Office by doing serious drama and dramadeys like The Way, Way Back, showing he was more than just Michael Scott. And Miley Cyrus… well.

As someone who’s done a bit of acting, I get that. Acting is an art and no artists really want to do the same thing over and over forever and ever. They want to branch out, show their range, prove what they can do. But I ask you, if the character you’re indelibly associated with is one that people love, one that inspires people, one that matters to people… is that such a bad thing? Leonard Nimoy was Spock, and eventually he learned to embrace that. Alan Rickman was Hans Gruber for one generation and Professor Snape for their children, and that was great for all of them. And since word came of Carrie Fisher’s heart attack last week, the responses from people have shown she was another such performer. She had entertaining roles in a lot of movies, and for years she was one of Hollywood’s greatest secret weapons, as a mostly-anonymous script doctor on Hook, Sister Act, and a number of other films for which she never received credit. But for most people who have been praying for her the past few days, it was her role as Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars films that made her a part of their lives.

While it’s true that Leia was essentially the only significant female character in the original Star Wars trilogy, what a character she was. She was brave, strong, and an incredible force for good — she stood toe-to-toe with Darth Vader and didn’t blink an eye, grabbed a blaster and led her own rescuers on the escape from the Death Star, took the lead of the rebellion in later films. Even in Return of the Jedi, when Jabba the Hutt placed her in the much-maligned “Slave Leia” outfit, Carrie Fisher’s character was a pillar of strength, fighting against and ultimately killing her oppressor with his own chain.

She was tough as nails, is what I’m saying. And from all indications, that’s something that could also be said of Carrie Fisher herself. Her life may not have been easy, but she made the most of it, telling stories and creating a character that can and should be seen as an inspiration to people everywhere.

The last few days — the last few hours in particular — have seen fans coming out of the woodwork to talk about what both the actress and the character mean to them, that she’s someone to be admired, someone to be imitated. One could do far worse with their life than to be remembered as Princess and General Leia Organa.

I only hope that Fisher herself knew that people felt that way.

RIP.

Scrooge Revisited Day 5-Dean Jones in Scrooge and Marley (2001)

scrooge-and-marleyNote: If you’re new to Reel to Reel, I’m more about dissecting and commenting on film than writing a straightforward review. As such, please be warned, the following is full of spoilers.

Director: Fred Holmes

Writer: Fred Holmes, based on the novel by Charles Dickens and the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy

Cast: Dean Jones, Reg Grant, D. James Kennedy, Joan Plowright, Greg Wilson, Jason Richards, Jessica Lee, Jon Freda, Al Arasim, Al Quinn

Notes: Former Disney leading man Dean Jones stars in this faith-heavy adaptation of Dickens, produced by Gospel Communications International.  Although this is relatively short film (48 minutes total), it starts earlier than most adaptations of the story, spending a long time on Marley’s death and burial. In this version, Scrooge is not only explicitly atheist, but head and sole member of a group called (I swear I am not making this up) Atheists Are Us, and directs his anger not at Christmas in general, but the nativity specifically. He tries to harangue nephew Fred into taking down the town’s manger scene, threatening him with a lawsuit if he doesn’t. (Oh yes, Scrooge is a lawyer in this version.) In fact, the courtroom scene goes on for some time before Scrooge wins, then fires Cratchit for being late. At this point we’re halfway into the movie, and Scrooge hasn’t even talked to Marley yet.

When Marley (Reg Grant) does show up, it’s not to take him on the traditional journey through Past, Present, and Future. Oh no. Instead, we get Scrooge sent to an ethereal courtroom where he’s tasked with proving his assertion that the world would be better if Jesus Christ had never been born, with the caveat that he plunges to Hell if he fails. One would think that the very confirmation of Hell’s existence would be enough to drive the atheist out of most people, but that would make this movie even shorter than it is, but that would be too simple.

This is where it gets totally bonkers, guys, because Marley calls Dr. D. James Kennedy to the stand. If you missed it, it’s the same D. James Kennedy who wrote the book this movie was based on and minister of the church that produced the movie. Once you get past the sheer absurdity of his presence, you get a kind of boring debate between Kennedy and Scrooge. He then tries to steal Marley’s boutonniere and gets an electric shock out of it. I don’t get it either.

At the end of the trial, after a speech about the nature of Hell from Marley, we see Scrooge tossed in his own grave only to wake up, back in the original court, before judge ruled against the Nativity scene. He stumbles outside, weeping at the manger, and a woman appears and tells him God forgives those who ask for it. Tearfully, he realizes the woman is the ghost of his dead sister, Fan. He returns to the court to withdraw his lawsuit, begs Fred’s forgiveness and proclaims “I’ve discovered I like Christmas.”

Thoughts: These sort of faith-based films have grown in popularity in the last few years, and one wonders if D. James Kennedy could have done his movie with a bigger budget if he had waited a decade for the era of fare such as God’s Not Dead. As it is, the threadbare budget is on constant display in this film. For example, the main characters are all wearing Dickensian costumes, but when Scrooge walks down the street he’s surrounded by people wearing contemporary clothing and 20th century American-style Santa Claus hats. The dichotomy is preposterous enough to actually be amusing. To further confuse what time period we’re supposed to be watching, Fred cites a Supreme Court decision from 1985 in the court scene, and Marley’s appearance is heralded by a ghostly ambulance.

There’s a lot of amusing stuff in this movie, and not all of it intentional. Early on, for example, we see Scrooge plopping the late Marley’s head in his soup, then later Dean Jones hammishly chokes on a wonton, at which point we learn he sued the Chinese restaurant for killing Marley, winning free soup for life. (Atheists love wonton soup, it’s common knowledge.) We see Bob Cratchit (Greg Wilson) chugging along with a wonderfully over-the-top British accent, only to crash into Fred (Jason Richards) who doesn’t even attempt covering up what sounds like a cartoonish Boston accent. He stands in stark contrast with Mayor Boz (John Sheffield) who simply sounds like a cartoon.

Although I don’t talk about it online very much, I am Christian myself, and in general I want to support culture that portrays faith in a positive way. This movie, though, is so goofy and heavy-handed about it that it’s hard to imagine it convincing anybody. It’s funny, it’s fun to watch, but not for any of the reasons the filmmakers may have intended.

The first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

What I’ve Watched In… November 2016

doctor-strange-poster

Favorite of the Month: Doctor Strange (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. Hardcore Henry (2015), B-
  2. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016), A
  3. The Neon Demon (2015), C
  4. Doctor Strange (1978), C
  5. Time of the Apes (1987), D; MST3K Riff, B+
  6. Thinner (1996), C
  7. A Grand Night In: The Story of Aardman (2015), A
  8. Doctor Strange (2016), A
  9. Mascots (2016), B
  10. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), B+
  11. Star Trek Beyond (2016), A
  12. Spectre (2015), B-
  13. Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988), F
  14. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), B
  15. Teenage Caveman (1958), D; MST3K Riff, B
  16. My Fair Lady (1964), A
  17. Gunslinger (1956), D; MST3K Riff, B
  18. Fun in Balloon Land (1965), F; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  19. The Dwarvenaut (2016), C+
  20. The Addams Family (1991), B+
  21. Addams Family Values (1993), A-
  22. I Accuse My Parents (1944), D; MST3K Riff, A
  23. The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961), D-; MST3K Riff, B
  24. Young and Beautiful (2013), C
  25. Mouse on the Mayflower (1968), C+
  26. Garfield’s Thanksgiving (1989), B+
  27. BC: The First Thanksgiving (1979), C
  28. Intergalactic Thanksgiving (1979) B-
  29. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), A-
  30. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1974), B+
  31. Planes Trains, and Automobiles (1987), A
  32. Mickey’s Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse (2001), B
  33. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999), B+
  34. Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004), B-
  35. Magic Christmas Tree (1964), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  36. Gaslight (1944), B+
  37. Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972), F; RiffTrax Live Riff, B+

What I Watched In… September 2016

rope

Favorite of the Month: Rope (1948)

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. Pit and the Pendulum (1961), C+
  2. Superman (1978), A+
  3. Superman II (1980), B+
  4. Superman III (1983), C
  5. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), D
  6. Arachnia (2003), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  7. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), A
  8. Blazing Saddles (1974), A
  9. Maggie (2015), B+
  10. Sex in the Comix (2012), B
  11. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), A
  12. Contracted (2013), B-
  13. Contracted: Phase II (2015), C
  14. Coherence (2013), B+
  15. Sabotage (1936), B
  16. Trumbo (2015), B
  17. Deathgasm (2015), D
  18. The Phantom Carriage (1921), B+
  19. Black Swan (2010), A-
  20. Burying the Ex (2014), B
  21. Ex Machina (2015), A
  22. Lilo and Stitch (2002), B
  23. Psycho (1960), A+
  24. Psycho II (1983), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  25. DC Super Hero Girls: Hero of the Year (2016), B
  26. Hitchcock (2012), B+
  27. Horror of Dracula (1958), B
  28. Riding the Bullet (2004), C
  29. Ruby (1977), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  30. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), B+
  31. The Fly (1986), B+
  32. Ghostheads (2016), B
  33. Holidays (2016), B-
  34. Monster House (2006), B
  35. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006), B+
  36. Wayne’s World (1992), A-
  37. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966), F; RiffTrax Live Riff, B+
  38. The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (2009), C
  39. Murder Party (2007), B
  40. Rope (1948), A
  41. Dreamcatcher (2003), C
  42. Trollhunter (2010), B

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

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.