That Movie Does Need to be Made

64fdee4a039c20870dfeaf0612bc1c8c_20fc76867f32827c21b7c32d81b8090f When filmmakers announce a new movie online, especially if it is an adaptation, sequel, or remake, it is a safe bet that among the first comments will be the statement, “Why are they making this? It does not need to be a movie.” I am here to tell you that those comments are incorrect and what the people actually mean is, “This does not interest me in the least and I don’t know why anyone finds it interesting.” That is a perfectly acceptable response. Not every film is for you, and that is ok, but just because you’re not interested, doesn’t mean the film should not exist.

Movies have been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was little my mom worked days and my dad worked nights, meaning we only had family time on the weekends. Weekends mostly involved four things: doing yardwork and laundry, and watching football and movies. My parents were not big fans of either board or video games, so our family activity for my entire life (until the death of my father) was to watch movies together. For those of you old enough to not only remember Blockbuster, but also remember when they first rolled out their rewards program in 1999, normally you had to pay yearly price for it, much like the Nerdpocalypse premium feed. When the program began, they told us that we’d earned a lifetime membership into the rewards program at the gold level because the previous year we rented the fifth most movies from their store. We averaged renting a movie and a half every day that year, usually two or three a night in the summer because I could stay up later. That may sound crazy, but you’d be surprised to know that Blockbuster was only one of three places we rented movies. At that point, the demise of video stores had yet to begin. The following is an obvious statement, but it must be made: Not all of the 600 or so movies we saw that year were very good. My mom would watch anything and I was much closer to her than my dad who had no problem calling it a night when some horrible movie was on. Now, like most people who lose a parent, I would give anything just to watch and discuss a movie with my Dad again, the way we used to.

Maybe every movie is not a masterpiece and worth recommending, but many movies can inspire someone or bring a family together for 90+ minutes. If movies were required to have an A+ screenwriter, actors, director and cinematographer (oh and don’t forget--a strong message or tale that needs to be told and hasn’t been), a great year would see maybe five movies being released. There are billions of dollars to be made in movies, so I doubt the number of films made each year will ever change much, since you are never going to convince people to give up their livelihood. On the contrary, with cheaper avenues to cash, like direct to video on demand, we may see the number of films actually increase to what it was in the past when the studio plan was not so feast or famine with their budgets.

The easiest thing to rail against is the current remake culture that is taking Hollywood by storm. There have always been and always will be remakes, but they do seem to be more prevalent than ever before. Maybe it has something to do with the attention span of our country.  As the average attention span decreases, people may be less likely to go back and watch old films. Maybe that old film is a true classic and should be seen by everyone. When it comes to remakes, I believe it is fair to be disinterested in an original film’s style of filmmaking that died out before you were born, or preferring to have a movie populated by actors you recognize. One has to be careful when approaching a remake, because there are times when the remake is the classic, or just as much of a classic as the original, such as the following examples:

The Thing From Another World vs. The Thing

Infernal Affairs vs. The Departed

The Fly (1958) vs. The Fly (1986)

Scarface (1932) vs. Scarface (1983)

Ocean’s 11 (1960) vs. Ocean’s 11 (2001)

Judge Dredd vs. Dredd

Seven Samurai vs. The Magnificent Seven (1960) vs. The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Remakes and adaptations (of which there are more than a dozen left to be released before the end of this year) are like everything else: do not judge them too quickly or you may miss out on something special. Instead of rushing to say, “This movie is a waste of time and money,” I suggest being hopeful that the target audience loves it and keeping your mind open. If the trailer looks good, or all the reviews are positive, consider giving it a chance. If you think a movie is a bad idea, and it turns out to be a big flop, it is perfectly acceptable to offer a hearty, “I told you so,” to the people who were excited for it. Some movies are great, some are horrible, and most are somewhere in the middle, but all deserve and need to be made. All movies (independent of quality) generate numerous jobs (covering everything from craft services to actors to spending an average of 40+ million on advertising per studio movie), countless memories and just might inspire the next generation of great filmmakers.

Nerd Culture Critique: Race Bending is never OK except when it is

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So this past weekend news began to circulate that actor, Michael B. Jordan has officially signed on for the character of Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot. As most of you know Johnny has always been a white, blond haired, blue eyed character since his first appearance in 1961. So naturally there has been a large level of discuss as to whether this is the “right” thing to do. A large amount of the nerd community has spoken out against the casting when Jordan was even rumored to be in the running. So let’s explore this phenomenon on race bending characters and see what is really going on here.

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Since Blade was made into a live action film the sub-genre of comic book movies has taken off considerably. 1998 was the genesis for the explosion of superheroes movies that we know and love today. The Wesley Snipes lead movie was based on a half vampire/half human comic book character who was black and an absolute bad ass. I remember seeing this movie and being very surprised that 1. it was even being made due to its violent material. 2. that the lead is unapologetically black. Snipes isn’t some actor who might be mistaken for half white, or be considered “passable.” So to have him as the lead for this comic book movie was pretty great. Now flash forward to today and the major studios are struggling to get a comic book movie starring a black character on screen...how odd. The reason I mention Blade at all has less to do with his place in kicking off the comic book movie phenomenon, but rather that his name is brought up constantly when it comes to changing the race of comic book characters on screen. I have read many comments to the effect of “what if they changed Blade to a white guy?” Well this is actually a fairly complicated issue that I plan to explore. The history of film and of America in general plays a large part of why that answer is not a simple one. If you believe its a simple yes or no than I would argue that familiarizing yourself with history is highly important.

The history of white actors dressing up as people of other races and playing to ignorant stereotypes is long and complicated. From blackface performances to award winning films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A film having easily one of the most disgusting portrayals of east asians to date. Did you know that John Wayne played Genghis Khan once...seriously? Yeah it happened. These are the type of whitewashing issues that have permeated Hollywood for decades. Is it ok? Well at the time it was seen as absolute fine. The American populous saw no issues with these traditionally black, asian, native american, etc characters being played by white men and women in face paint. Think of it as “ignorant kabuki theater.”

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But that was a long time ago, can’t we just move on from that? Well, not just yet. In the introduction of our most known characters during the 1930s through the 1960s in comics there are little to no characters that aren’t white. The entirety of the Justice League and Avengers are all white and mostly male; two women between both teams. So the reason why isn’t really that hard to understand. At the time of their creation American culture was pretty well steeped in whiteness. Other cultures were greatly marginalized. If you doubt this, then please take a look at Mad Men on television right now. This takes place during those times. Not too many minorities around are there? The 1950s/60s America was dominated by white men when it came to businesses and power. So the creators of our favorite characters were all white males, and wrote for a white male audience. The circumstances that got us there as a country are obvious and we don’t need to go into that, but we should recognize it. The overall theme of the 1950s and 60s could have been “All White Everything.” There is equally important point to be made that women suffered during these times as well. That is why we see both Marvel and DC still struggling to make more female characters relevant to their fan base.

After the televised civil rights battle of the 1960s I guess Marvel and DC realized that black people existed and hey maybe they read comics too! So we get the introduction to some iconic black characters. Marvel introduced the likes of Black Panther (1966), Falcon (1969), Luke Cage (1972), and Blade (1973). DC comics brought in John Stewart (1971), Black Manta (1967) and pretty much no other mainstream black characters until the 1990s. Asian heroes like Shang-Chi (1973) from Marvel have always been second tier. Shang-Chi’s creation could largely attributed to the Kung-Fu craze in the 1970s. Sunfire (1971), Mandarin (who is half Chinese - 1964) also could make the limited roster of memorable Asian characters that have been created. Seeing a pattern yet? Latino characters fared even worse; Sunspot (1982) is really the only fully Latino character that is even remotely recognizable from Marvel in years. There are others who are half latino but known who are from two latino parents. Mixed raced characters of note are Miles Morales and Sam Alexander, both newly created characters in 2011. So when it is stated that we can just choose originally black, latino, or asian characters to put on screen I laugh. The list of viable minority characters that would even generate the kind of enthusiasm of a Thor, Captain America, Superman, Batman, etc is pathetic at best.

Create new characters that are minorities and put them in the movies? Well sure that seems very simple to do. Just create a character out of thin air who the audience is suppose to immediately attach to and desire to see a two hour film about, seems reasonable (sarcasm heavily implied). Sure this works with other movies. Most movies have characters that are created out of thin air. However, when you put the stamp of Marvel or DC people expect to already know these characters or be able to read about them in some comic book. Look at easily the one of the most popular new characters in all of comics, Miles Morales AKA Ultimate Spider-man. He is a fantastic minority character. However, he is a derivative from a well known character. Spider-man is one of the most beloved heroes bar none in all of comics. It isn’t much of a surprise that a well written derivative of the character would do well. Miles has his own personality and style, but there is a built in fan base all ready the second he walks on to the scene. What completely new character has caught on to that level in such a short timeframe? Spoiler alert, NONE!

So this brings me back to the original point of the article, should changing the race of some of these comic book characters be allowed when they do live action movies? My answer is yes. Should minority characters be changed to being played by white actors? My answer is no, with a caveat. Is a character like Blade largely focused on his blackness? The answer is no it isn’t. However, characters like Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Falcon do matter. Their race is central to who they are. Those characters were born out of the aftermath of a hard fought struggle of race division in the 1960s and 70s. To not understand that is just ignorant. Does it seem fair that minority characters these days don’t get changed while traditionally white roles do in comic book movies? Well I would argue it isn’t about fairness. Its more about the pendulum swinging to equilibrium. If all things were equal in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s when these iconic characters were created we wouldn’t have seen an all white Justice League, Avengers, or Fantastic Four for example. Times are changing and the country is looking less white everyday. Comics have always worked to reflect what is going on to a degree in real life. That is why you see the introduction of characters like Miles Morales, Sam Alexander, and Cyborg. The vast majority of new characters being created are non white or of mixed race. This isn’t a gimmick this is a reflection of America.

So when you hear someone get so angry over the fact that Johnny Storm is going to be black just shake your head and ask them why they are so angry about it. If the answer is “because he isn’t black in the comics” then just walk away. Or on second thought ask them if they were that mad when this happened (all white actors playing a different race):

Burt Lancaster - Native American (Massai 1954)

John Wayne - Mongolian (The Conqueror 1956)

Marlon Brando - Japanese (The Teahouse of August Moon 1956)

Charlton Heston - Latino (A Touch of Evil 1958)

Mickey Rooney - Chinese (Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961)

Elizabeth Taylor - Cleopatra (Cleopatra 1963)

Laurence Oliver - Black (Othello 1965)

Peter Sellers - Indian (The Party 1968)

Jennifer Connelly - Latino (A Beautiful Mind 2001)

Josh Hartnett - Inuit (30 Days of Night 2007)

Ben Campbell - Asian (21 2008)

Justin Chatwin - Asian (Dragonball Evolution 2009)

Jake Gyllenhaal - Persian (Prince of Persia 2010)

Everyone in The Last Airbender

Carey Mulligan - Latino (Drive 2011)

Jennifer Lawrence - Non white, olive skinned character (Hunger Games 2012)

Ben Affleck - Latino (Argo 2012)

Just to name a few.

Lastly, go back and think about how many minority comic book characters you can name who are even remotely still talked about today that predate the 1960s. If you know of any please let us know in the comments. At the end of the day, minority heroes are few and far between. Just because a standard was set 50+ years ago doesn’t mean things can’t change. For the record the last time Fantastic Four was on the big screen one of the main cast wasn’t white. In case you didn’t know Jessica Alba is Latino. So I guess the argument comes down to who passably white at this point, right?

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Editorial: You Might be too Old to Review These Movies

Old ManMuch like age requirements to enter certain movies exists the notion of reviewing them might also need some regulation. This may sound like age discrimination, but far from it. In this day and age big Hollywood blockbusters have taken to be more about fantasy worlds, comic book settings, and the like. These sub genres are tried and true winners, but seem to lately be suffering under the boot of older reviewers who see them as juvenile and not worthy of respect. What I don't want to imply here is that all these fantasy based, and especially comic book based, movies are all excellent works that deserve no legitimate criticism. Legitimate is the key word here. When critics universally panned The Lone Ranger it was for good reason, or earlier this year we saw the same with After Earth. Both movies just suffered from the standard bad movie issues and critics responded accordingly. However, the star of The Lone Ranger, Armie Hammer had this to say about the state of American film critics:

"If you go back and read the negative reviews, most of them aren't about the content of the movie, but more what's behind it. ... While we were making it we knew people were gunning for it. I think it was the popular thing when the movie hit rocky terrain they jumped on the bandwagon to try and bash it. They tried to do the same thing to World War Z, it didn't work, the movie was successful. Instead they decided to slit the jugular of our movie."

While I agree with Hammer's sentiment it doesn't resonate so well due to the fact that his movie turned out to actually be terrible, but the point still remains. Do critics go after a movie unnecessarily before its even in the can? Have critics made up their minds before sitting in their theater seats? Does nostalgia cloud the minds of these critics when it comes to reboots, remakes, and decades later sequels? In a word, ABSOLUTELY.

I have been noticing a heavy handed approach to movie criticism rears its ugly head at about the mid point in the summer and keeps pounding along until we are out of the blockbuster season. Once again, please don't confuse valid criticism and what I'm talking about here. When the reviews of Man of Steel began coming out I knew that there was something very odd happening. While far from a perfect film, or even on par with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series, Man of Steel did not deserve the gutting that it received by professional movie critics. I read reviews that concentrated on the physique of Henry Cavill compared to Christopher Reeves, or ones that flat out asked the question of "Do we even need another Superman movie?" Nothing completely bias in that movie review title, right? So this begs the question, should any and every movie reviewer be allowed to review all genres of movies when they clearly have built in bias towards them?

Another moment that sticks out at me this year is the brutal reviews of Pacific Rim. While still a positive score on aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes the movie saw some very interesting criticism. Here is a quote from David Nusair of Reel Film Reviews:

...a punishing ordeal that just might mark the nadir of the modern big-budget blockbuster...

To me this screams of misunderstanding the very nature of a movie like Pacific Rim, or the summer blockbuster movies in general. They are not designed to challenge you mentally or to invoke feelings of heavy human emotion, sans excitement. Giant robots fighting giant monsters...that's it. If you are into kaiju properties than the movie is for you, but if you think they are silly then why even review the movie at all. If their was a sub genre of movies I hated or thought were a general waste of time you will NEVER see me review them. Its not fair to the movie or the genre at large.

Another part to this insane equation is age; I know that's mean, but its just a fact. Are there 60 year folks who can enjoy watching Deadpool rip it up on the big screen or watch Hit-Girl stab a guy through the chest with a sword? Yes of course. I would like to think that when I hit that ripe age of 60 I can still enjoy some mindless action. However, to pretend that this is true for all movie critics or even the majority is just naive. The more in touch with modern books, comics, etc the movies are the more these particular reviewers bash it. When it came to the new Superman movie I read tons of reviews stating that this wasn't the Superman that they were use to. Well tough titty, the movie depicted the Superman of the 90s to present. A grittier look at the man of tomorrow. However, nostalgia of Christopher Reeves (or even George Reeves) in red underwear cloud their minds from giving an honest review. When you spend 90% of the review comparing it to a movie made in 1978 then you just failed at your job...miserably. The idea of film criticism is to review the movie in a vacuum, not comparing it to things and saying it doesn't live up to X. That's lazy and unfair to the film your reviewing. The only time it makes sense is when the movie is a direct sequel.

So in the end I have a proposal, as a film reviewer you have to prove yourself worthy of reviewing certain film genres. You can't think slasher films are silly or too violent and review Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You should not be able to review Pacific Rim if you don't think Japanese Anime is an art form worthy of critical thought and legit criticism. I don't want to ready your Man of Steel review if you think Superman never killed someone in the comics, or that all comics are juvenile. Having an understanding of basic subject matter when reviewing movies is important. In order to appreciate the nuances of a movies like Shame, Lincoln, or The Way Way Back one should have an understanding of what human emotion looks like. You would not want an emotionless robot reviewing it and missing the all the highly important nuance. In the same way I don't want movies like Kick-Ass 2 dragged through the mud by people who simple see it as too violent while missing the overarching story and getting caught up in the blood and guts. Or to a larger extent, thinking that because of all the blood and guts the movie is just gruesome and deserves to be dismissed. This year Hollywood critics are guilty of one major sin: They got tired. They tired of all the big robots, metal claws, and flying robot suit centric movies. As a reviewer your job is to not get tired. If you are tired of reviewing these type of movies then retire. I never see critics tire of the multitude of relationship dramas or historical biopics that clogged the movie release calendar for 10 months a year. So buck up Hollywood critics, put your big boy pants back on and start reviewing movies with a sense of purpose, not with a sense of destruction. If you can't do that then you might be too old to review these movies.