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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
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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… July 2015

Hector and the Search For Happiness

Favorite of the Month: Hector and the Search For Happiness

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. Man on Wire (2008) B-
2. Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), C+
3. Destroy All Monsters (1968), B+
4. Psycho II (1983), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
5. Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979), F; MST3K Riff, B+
6. Orca: The Killer Whale (1977), D
7. Captain America (1990), D
8. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) A
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), A+
10. Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964), B
11. Advantageous (2015), B+
12. Changing Lanes (2002), B
13. WarGames (1983) B+
14. Lost in La Mancha (2002), B+
15. The Projected Man (1966), F; MST3K Riff, B+
16. John Wick (2014) A-
17. Night of the Lepus (1972), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
18. Little Shop of Horrors (1960), D; RiffTrax Riff, A-
19. Comic Store Heroes (2012), D
20. X-Men: First Class (2014), A
21. Back to the Future (1985), A
22. Back to the Future Part II (1989), B+
23. Back to the Future Part III (1990), B
24. Conan the Barbarian (1982), B-
25. In Search of General Tso (2014), B
26. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), C-
27. Pacific Rim (2013), A
28. The Queen of Versailles (2012), B+
29. Hector and the Search For Happiness (2014), A
30. Ant-Man (2015), B+
31. Creep (2014), B-
32. Timeline (2003), C+
33. Hatchet II (2010), B+
34. Hatchet III (2013), B-
35. This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006), A
36. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), A
37. Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014), B
38. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), D
39. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), A+
40. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), B+
41. Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No (2015), C-
42. Mission: Impossible (1996), B-
43. The Warriors (1979), B+
44. Mission: Impossible II (2000), B
45. The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015), B-
46. Wet Hot American Summer (2001), B-
47. Driving Miss Daisy (1989), A
48. Teacher of the Year (2015), A-
49. The Houses October Built (2014), B-
50. These Final Hours (2013), B
51. The 39 Steps (1935), A

2014: The Year in Film

Favorite of the Year: Captain America-The Winter Soldier

Favorite of the Year: Captain America-The Winter Soldier

It’s been quite a year. I got married. My wife and I put together a little home together. I directed one play, I’m currently in rehearsals for another. I wrote a new book that — God willing — will be available relatively early in 2015. And in the meantime, I managed to see a few movies.

Not all the movies, mind you. There are still several 2014 releases I haven’t seen yet, often because the aforementioned activities got in the way of my movie time. I still haven’t seen Boyhood, for instance, and I’m dying to. I’m delinquent in keeping up with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and despite all my efforts to the contrary, I’ve yet to get around to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

So consider this list highly incomplete. These are all the films from 2014 that I have seen, in order of my favorite to my least favorite. This includes direct-to-video and made-for-TV movies. I’ll leave comments for the ones where I have comments to leave.

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel has had a good year — a good couple of years, actually — but this to me was the movie that really elevated their universe beyond simple superhero action into something with greater depth and meaning.
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Similar to Captain America, this film took what Rise of the Planet of the Apes began and ran with it, creating a larger world and a highly intelligent, powerful science fiction film.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy. This was just pure fun.
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past. Easily the best X-Men film to date, and so good that it actually erases some of the sins of the previous films.
  • The LEGO Movie. Again, pure fun, but with a surprising amount of heart to it.
  • Gone Girl. Incredibly tense and engaging.
  • Interstellar. One of the most engaging, entertaining pure sci-fi films in years
  • Godzilla. Fantastic reboot of the franchise.
  • Edge of Tomorrow. Great movie hurt by atrocious marketing.
  • Big Hero 6.
  • Stripped. Fine documentary about the comic strip form.
  • I Am Santa Claus.
  • St. Vincent.
  • Doc of the Dead. Interesting documentary about zombie fiction.
  • Stage Fright. Little seen but actually entertaining musical horror comedy about a slasher killer attacking a theater camp. It’s on Netflix streaming right now. Meatloaf is in it.
  • A Merry Friggin’ Christmas. One of Robin Williams’s final performances, alongside Community‘s Joel McHale.
  • Son of Batman.
  • Justice League: War.
  • Mr. Peabody and Sherman.
  • Big Driver.
  • Chilling Visions: 5 States of Fear. Okay anthology, but the premise holding the segments together is paper-thin.
  • JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time.
  • Maleficent. Could have been a great remake from the villain’s perspective, but a horribly invasive voice over and some poor performances really hurt.
  • Print the Legend.
  • Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. The original remains one of my favorites. This film seems like further proof that Frank Miller has lost his mind.
  • Robocop. Unnecessary, lifeless remake.
  • Lucky Duck. Treacle-filled animated kiddie film I watched with my niece. Just because a movie is targeted for children is no excuse for making it bad.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2. After a first movie that I thought was just as good as — maybe better than — the Toby Maguire films, I couldn’t believe how utterly this one fell apart.
  • I, Frankenstein.
  • Happy Christmas. “Hey, you know all those dull, unscripted movies about obnoxious people who can’t get their lives together? Let’s make one at Christmas. And put Lena Dunham in it.”
  • Sharknado 2: The Second One. In fairness, they weren’t trying to make a good movie. They succeeded.
  • Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever. All I can say is that the title was accurate.

What I watched in… April 2014

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 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. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), A
2. Stripped (2014), A
3. Mr. Nobody (2009), A
4. Nightmare Factory (2011), B-
5. Justice League: War (2014), B
6. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload (2013), B
7. I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), D; MST3K Riff, B
8. It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! (1974), B+
9. It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974), B
10. I Accuse My Parents (1944), F; MST3K, B
11. Man of Steel (2013), A
12. Pitch Perfect (2012), B+
13. The Lone Ranger (2013), D
14. Dr. No (1962), B+
15. Odd Thomas (2013), B-

The Marvel Cinematic Universe-Now What?

Captain America-The Winter SoldierThis week in my podcast, All New Showcase Episode 301, I sit back with my frequent co-host Kenny and talk about what the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier mean for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How is this going to change Agents of SHIELD? What’s going to be different in the Marvel movies and TV shows from now on? Where do they go from here? We get super-spoilery on everything Marvel has done, make predictions about the films and TV shows already in development, talk about those projects still in the rumor stage, and then give their own suggestions for what properties they’d like to see join the MCU! Plus: what other studios are trying to duplicate the MCU’s success?

If this is in your wheelhouse, friends, I kindly invite you to give it a listen.

Episode 301: The Marvel Cinematic Universe-Now What?

If I was making the Justice League movie…

Justice League V2 1Fans of DC Comics’s Justice League franchise saw what seems to be another setback this week, when word leaked the script that has been in development is being scrapped entirely. For those who just want to see the damn movie made already, this is obviously distressing news. But my approach is slightly different. I absolutely want to see a Justice League movie, but I want to see a great movie. So if Warner Bros recognized that the script they’re working with is crap, by all means, start over and do it right.

Earlier this week over at CXPulp, I wrote about how Disney seems to be planning to apply the lessons of Marvel Studios to their recently-acquired Star Wars franchise. (For those of you who may not follow this stuff the way I do, let me briefly explain that Disney bought Marvel in 2009 and that Marvel and DC have been the two biggest publishers – and therefore the two biggest rivals – in American comic books for decades). Marvel created films for several of their characters, brought them together in their mega-hit The Avengers, and are now breaking them off into smaller films again before the next combined go-around. Comic book fans, delighted with what Marvel is doing, are asking why the hell the movies based on DC Comics – the Justice League, Superman, Batman, and many more — can’t do the same thing. Although DC Comics, for a long time, had properties with more mainstream recognition than Marvel, in the past decade Marvel has dominated superhero movies. The only hit from the DC Universe in recent years has been Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, while Marvel’s X-Men, Spider-Man, and Avengers-related films have become legitimate powerhouses.

The reason for this, I believe, goes back to the late 90s. Marvel, at the time, was still an independent company, although one reorganizing after a bankruptcy. DC, however, has been wholly owned by Warner Bros for a very long time. That means Warner Bros is the only game in town to make a DC movie. If Warner Bros isn’t interested, it won’t happen, and if Warner Bros doesn’t understand what makes the property work, we get crap like Steel and Catwoman. Marvel, on the other hand, had the freedom to shop their properties around. Universal doesn’t have the right feel for Spider-Man? Take it to Sony. Paramount can’t give us a decent X-Men film? Bring them to Fox. Granted, this system turned out its share of clunkers too (let’s not forget that some genocidal maniac gave approval to not one, but TWO Ghost Rider movies starring Nicolas Cage), but their batting average over this period, beginning with Blade in 1998, is pretty damn good.

Things are different now, of course, since Marvel is owned by Disney. But by the time of that purchase in 2009, Marvel had already launched their own film unit to make movies with the characters other studios didn’t have – Iron Man and Incredible Hulk had both already come out and production was underway on Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. By the time Marvel was a Disney property, they’d proven that they could make great films on their own, and Disney has wisely stayed the hell back and let them do it, the way they did when they bought Pixar in 2006. (Disney seems to have a three-year cycle for buying other companies, they got Lucasfilm in 2012. That means I have until 2015 to create a franchise with lucrative enough IPs that I can sell them to Disney and retire in luxury.)

This, more than anything else, is what Warner Bros needs to learn in regards to any DC Cinematic Universe. It’s not about copying Marvel’s storytelling or casting tricks or format. It’s about letting the people who know the characters do what they do best and getting out of their way while they do it.

Marvel needed to raise the profiles of their lesser-known characters or Avengers never would have been the hit that it was. DC has a different problem. Ten years ago, nobody who wasn’t a comic book fan knew who Iron Man or Thor were. DC’s problem is that everybody knows many of their characters – Wonder Woman, Aquaman – but they fundamentally misunderstand them. Aquaman is a punchline, he’s “the guy that talks to fish.” But as writers like Geoff Johns and Peter David have shown us, he can be so much more than that – a tragic monarch, a man who struggles with the responsibility of protecting two-thirds of the surface of the Earth… not to mention the fact that the physical changes necessary to allow a person to survive on the ocean’s floor would make them pretty strong and otherwise badass on land. Putting Aquaman in a movie doesn’t necessitate that you explain who he is, it necessitates you explain what makes him awesome.

So if I was in charge of the Justice League movie, this is what I would do.

First, start with this summer’s Man of Steel. The film is generating some positive buzz and I’m excited about it. I’d work in a small reference to a larger DC Universe – have some news report about Green Lantern in the background, or a page of the Daily Planet referencing the chaos in Gotham City that happened during The Dark Knight Rises. Nothing that would really influence Superman’s story, but enough to nod at the fact that he’s not – as Nick Fury said in the first Iron Man – the only superhero in the world.

Then, I’d work on putting together a phenomenal Justice League story. I wouldn’t start with the big bad that was in the previous script, Darkseid, for two reasons. First, Marvel is already using Thanos in their movies, and although Thanos was largely a Darkseid rip-off when he was created in the comics, movie fans won’t get that and will think it’s the Justice League that’s being derivative. Second, he’s too big for the first movie. Where do you build from there? You need a threat big enough to justify bringing all of these characters together, of course, but they shouldn’t go up against the biggest threat in the universe their first time out.

Next, get the recognizable aspects from the current DC films and put them together: Henry Cavill as Superman, build off the end of The Dark Knight Rises (as a spoiler consideration I won’t be more specific than that), and yes, I’d get Ryan Reynolds back as Green Lantern. That movie had problems, but his casting really wasn’t one of them. Then I’d add the characters that the public has heard of but doesn’t understand – Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash. Use this movie to showcase them the way Avengers suddenly turned everyone in America into fans of the Hulk for the first time in decades.

Don’t bother with everybody’s origin. It’s a convention of the superhero genre, true, but it’s often the least exciting part of it. You don’t need to know why John McClane became a cop to enjoy Die Hard, so why do I need to see Barry Allen get struck by lightning when I’ve already accepted a world with a man from Krypton and another guy with a magic ring? After Justice League, we’ll start spinning the other characters off into their individual movies – if necessary, work in the origins there. There’s no rule that says they have to take place after the Justice League movie just because they’re made in that order, although even then, I think a quick flashback would probably be more than sufficient in most cases.

Finally, make it clear that the Justice League isn’t the be-all and end-all of the DCU. Marvel can’t reference Spider-Man, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four, because the rights to those characters are still tied up with other studios thanks to deals they made before they were purchased by Disney. DC doesn’t have that problem. Guillermo Del Toro is working on a movie featuring some of DC’s supernatural characters like Swamp Thing and Deadman – a Justice League movie could drop in a reference to them. Give us veiled hints or rumors about other Leaguers from the comics like Zatanna, Plastic Man, Firestorm… characters that have potential for their own films in the future, assuming of course that they’re done right. Even better – if you have some sort of huge battle for the end piece, the sort of thing that the public can’t help but notice (like the battle of New York in The Avengers, and it just shows how great that movie was structured that it keeps being the best analogy), give us glimpses of some of these other heroes fighting their own battles while the League takes on the Big Bad, whoever it happens to be.

And most importantly, make sure that the story is one that satisfies the fans but is broad enough to grab people who don’t know all of the characters. This is what Marvel has done brilliantly and what Warner Bros has prevented DC from doing for years. If you can pull off that trick, we’d have a movie that could launch not just one franchise, but an entire universe.

Of course, that’s what I would do. But what do I know? I’m just a guy who reads comics and watches movies. It’s not like I’ve got the pedigree of the man who gave the green light to Jonah Hex.

(If that line isn’t enough to convince people I should be running the show, nothing will be.)