Stale Popcorn and Stale Stories


Last year’s movies were a strange mix of amazing and lackluster. “Shape of Water”, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” and “Get Out” showed us just how creative Hollywood can be.

However, the box office was also saturated with sequels, remakes, and reimaginings. Movies that, instead of standing on their merit alone, rely on the credit of previous movies that came before.

Now I don’t want to indict all sequels. There were some good ones last year and movie studios should take note from these.

“Logan,” for example. In an industry saturated with superhero movies, “Logan” stands apart because it takes the genre in a different direction. “Logan” flips the genre on its head by changing how we see familiar characters.

Professor X, who used to be the intelligent leader, is now losing his mental faculties with age. Wolverine has turned into a recluse alcoholic because of an ambiguous tragic event. “Logan” stands apart from other X -Men movies because the characters feel different. The world feels different. It doesn’t feel like the writers are telling the same story just with a new cool villian.

Compare this to most Marvel movies and they seem to come up short. Every since his first movie, Iron Man has been the overconfident snarky billionaire with cool gadgets. Captain America has always been the bright-eyed boy scout who puts his morals first. These characters don’t evolve with the series, they just get stronger and fight bigger bad guys. Sure, The Avengers movies are fun but fun will only get you so far.

Another big hit this year was “Beauty and the Beast” starring Emma Watson. A visually beautiful movie with big musical numbers and amazing visual effects. It’s a classic and the main musical score says so by boasting it’s a “tale as old as time.” This is the main issue. Why are we retelling a tale as old as time without any differences to the story? Belle falls for the Beast, they dance and the Beast falls for Belle, true loves kiss and so on. This is almost the exact same movie as the animated version.

Look at “The Shape of Water” and see how you can take an old tale and change it to keep the story fresh and interesting. We still have the classic roles of Belle, Beast and Gaston and the message is still about love being blind to appearance; but the writers changed how the characters told the story. The decision paid off with “The Shape of Water” winning Best Picture of 2017.

That is why I respect a movie that takes risks which don’t pay off over a movie sticking to tried and true methods without changing anything. Risks are how we get movies that stick with us for years. If artists didn’t take risks we wouldn’t have the great works. So support movies that take risks. “Get Out” never would have happened if Jordan Peele decided to make a horror movie based on basic tropes of monsters and serial killers. “The Big Sick” wouldn’t be so touching if the cast decided to stick to the normal romantic comedy beats and plot points. Hell, even “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” wouldn’t be around if their directors didn’t stand up to executives and say that people do want fun superhero movies that can laugh at themselves.

One of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright, put it perfectly; “the worst thing you can do after a test screening is slash it for the lowest common denominator.”

To lose what makes a film different and original is to lose what sets it apart from everything else we see.

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