STAN LEE: EXCELSIOR!

Celebrity deaths are a peculiar phenomenon, at least they are for me. In spurts and moments of rarity, I will catch myself mustering up the guts to pretend as if this strangers creations had a magnified impact on me, and then there’s Stan Lee. After the news nudged it’s way to me, I spent the remainder of my day lounged over the counter-top of the concierge bar at work. Recounting memories and, arguably, fathoming a way to process, or, better yet, digest the news. It’s a peculiar thing to mourn for a man you’ve never truly known, or even met for that matter. Yet there I was, shedding tears and lashing out in anger at the idiocy that is customer service. Then I got home, stumbling into my room and feeling overwhelmed by my comic book collection like never before. Suddenly those crisp pages of heroism and bubbled dialogue felt piercing, staring at me as if they were soaked in the spirit of their creator.

And now, here I am, attempting to quantify, or even qualify, my grief for a creator whose reach has engulfed my imagination since the days of tippy-toeing over the register at Hastings, just to see if the comic books on display were somehow enriched with superiority in comparison to the readable collection that was available to the general public. I remember those days; my little body would contort into a hole for a reading hibernation. Snacks and blankets littered around me, the sun dripping through the blinds of our middle-of-nowhere home. I can recall the times my world became unglued; the stories about our heroes being snapped from existence, worlds ending, planet-eating gods, and a heroes’ morality becoming evident to my pea-sized brain.

Stan was never noticeable to me though, I saw his cameos in “Mall Rats,” “Spider-Man,” and other films; but his portrait never became an indicator of “look, it’s Stan Lee, what an icon,” or anything of that sort. He was a comic book creator, the comic book creator, and my mind couldn’t really capture the heft, and the enormity of such an artisan. It’s as if I saw his fingerprints on everything hero-related, but never honestly thought of him as the mind in which those heroes poured out of, not that he was the originator of every Marvel hero and heroine. He was more responsible for the forefathers: Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Daredevil, and a few others.

And it was never, I think, about Stan’s deft or inventiveness as a writer. Not many self-respected writing snobs would place him in that conversation of “best authors,” not that he wouldn’t have a right to be in said discourse. I’ll be the first to admit that many saw Stan’s craft as a stepping stone, one they could make better, make grow, mature, and refine through their skill set. Names like Frank Miller, Jim Starlin, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore resoundingly ring that bell.

But Lee’s influence, his governing of both comic-book fandom and continued evolution is undeniable. It’s not his dexterity or proficiency as a writer that made him so impressionable though; it’s his adept infusion of double entendres and innuendos with that of a comic book's comprehensibility that inevitably paints him in a different light. How he can make a group of ragtag, born-superpowered characters be that of a symbolic manifestation of the race war of the 1960s. How that same vivid imagery can be invoked today with just cause, used like that of a genre-manipulator of reality. It’s one of those weird occurrences where the artists’ artwork isn’t reflective of his genius, at least not directly.

Don’t worry, this isn’t all to say Stan was a lousy writer who got lighting-in-a-bottle lucky, but there is a particular blueprint, a ground floor element, that elevates his articulation of courage, and it’s just that. The way he was able to blend fiction and non-fiction, allow for valor to be an identifiable motif to take with you, in and outside of the pages of a comic. How the tormenting and marginalizing of mutants suddenly became a tool for educating the youth about tolerance, about diversity, and how those two can organically intersect.

It’s not that Stan couldn’t web-together a story, a damn good one too, but it’s that seemingly innate ability he had to brew a story that would hold water for both kids and adults. Magnifying socio-political messages through these encompassing portraits of nobility and a relatable quirky canvas’ of a character that would later become the identifiable building blocks for authentic heroism. Stan had a different rationale for it all, once saying: "Another definition of a hero is someone who is concerned about other people’s well-being, and will go out of his or her way to help them — even if there is no chance of a reward. That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero."

It’s not so much the bare bone, rigamarole of his writing that signifies his brilliance, but that camouflaged inference, that suggestion of introspection that he so exceptionally conveyed through a story that allows for a term like “genius” to be attributed to the name Stan Lee.

That said, Stan was not limited to words on a page. ( I mean physically) He would go out and humorously perform for others, allowing the world to see through the mastermind-essence and take witness to the kid shining in the spotlight with glee. I feel like that’s the thought-process he had for all the cameos, to fulfill lifelong dreams, to tangibly live within his character's worlds. To feel the velvet of a spider-man costume, to smell the potent odor of a perspired Hulk, to see Iron Man take flight in a world he built the train tracks for.

Again, it's one of those strange incidents in which a creator is allowed to live in his world; a world finally brought to life by, a genius in his own right, Kevin Feige. Appearing and living in the confines of these cinematic universes and these multi-hero ensembles, Stan never shied away from being apart of his story. It’s an “art imitating life” sort of scenario, so much so that Stan once discussed how Peter’s first reaction to Mary Jane mirrored his own reception to the appearance of his wife; expressing: "When Spider-man first saw Mary Jane, he was Peter Parker at the time he saw Mary Jane. His reaction, I think, was a little bit like my reaction when I first saw my wife."

In the same vein, Stan resided within the heroism of the world, both in entertainment and in the hustle and bustle of the real world. Self-describing this sort of fidelity to childhood passions as “I don’t think you ever outgrow your love for things that are bigger than life and more colorful than the average life. And somehow I feel that these comic book stories are like fairy tales for older people, because they have the same qualities.” He would later stand alongside a man-sized Thor, a real-life snarky but lovable Tony Stark, a boyishly charming Peter Parker; all of whom must have ignited the child inside of him with insurmountable glee.

That cinematic universe, that ever-so rich, ever-so resonating land of heroism and simplistically brilliant storytelling in which character fabricates the tethering between story and camera, that world would never drag out a drunken-old-man hungry for praise. He once said: "I don't really think of them as my characters. I..I really sit in the theater, and I watch them, the way every member of the audience watches them. And at the end of the movie, I usually say 'Danm that was good. I am so glad.'" Those characters, those narratives, those movies encompass a lot about Stan Lee. His comic-book imprints will never be forgotten, obviously, but this incarnation of the spirit of Marvel, the spirit of Stan Lee is one of those rarities of the modern-film era that indicates the significance of source material.

With the acquisition of Fox, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now has a grasp of two of Stan’s most treasured creations, and it is an inexplicable tragedy that the icon, the creator, the man gripping tightly on to the kid inside of him, will never stand witness to such an enormous event. Almost a year ago, when the news was announced, Stan Lee was asked about the incorporation of characters and exclaimed with joyful anticipation, describing it as: “A truly great piece of news! Now characters such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can come home to the place where they belong. It's vitally important to have the Marvel characters under one roof. And now, as great as they were before, I can't wait to see the wonders that will unfold!”

I wish I could see the kid in him. The boy left behind by the sickness, and the loss of a wife, that boy who I assume would have cherished the majesty of nobility that will be spewed and montaged upon the silver screen for all to see. Never shouting or exclaiming his brilliance or the necessity of his genius for this franchise to exist, Stan wouldn’t do such a thing. In an interview at one point and time, inquired as to how he pondered the X-men out of existence. After he provided his thought-process behind the imagining of the natural born heroes, Stan responded even further by stating: “I was lucky enough to have a genius like Jack Kirby draw the scripts, so everybody loved it. I have been lucky all my life: I come up with a few cockamamie ideas, I get a guy like Kirby to make them look great, I get a producer Lauren Shuler Donner to make the movie look great….Everybody makes the things I started look great, and I take the credit for it, and I’m just enough of a phony to take the credit for it.”

I’m sure those creators and innovators that worked alongside him, feel and share that honest enthusiasm of being someone who's been praised for products that he may have had nothing to do with, and I can’t say for sure, but I believe his family must have shared that affinity. I don’t dare to cross that threshold; I fell in love with the artist, not the man. His creations, not the creator. Stan was a great guy as far as I can see, but I will not pretend to have known him or had felt his presence. I mourn his loss because of his impact on my fidelity to comics, my appreciation for writing, my eternal love for the cinematic universe he helped will to life. I mourn the man as well, but the difference in intensity between the two is profound for a reason.

I am not sure what Stan did when he was lost for thought, when he was bored, when he was hungry, when he was tired, etc. I can only comprehend and meditate upon the stories, and the significance of the characters left behind: the radioactive monsters, the mutated emblems of oppression, the boy slinging as hard as he can to become a hero, and the fantastical brilliance of teamwork. These are the things I will carry with me, and memorialize with the name Stan Lee linked next to them. The man, the father, the friend; that is someone else’s story to tell, a tale I’d listen to with eager giddiness.

 

If you need one more moment, maybe two more, to eulogize and commemorate the spectacular, fantastical, and amazing legacy that was Stan Lee. I’ve left here, a long and welcomed wake of the man, the myth, and the legend. Smith knew him better than most. Marc knew him as much as most. Yet we all can tell a story, both from the pages and from the time spent with the man himself. Stan was one in a million. Don’t be ashamed to shed some tears, I feel like its something he would’ve embraced. Making a few jokes or two right after of course, but vulnerability was never a sore spot for Stan; its one of the many things that made him Stan Lee. Nevertheless, go ahead: mourn, celebrate, cry, laugh, and for one last time, remember the enigma of joy that was Stan Lee. Excelsior!

Top 50 Horror Movies of All-Time

Halloween is a time for candy and spooky delight, and there is nothing more challenging than deciding upon the few films you can cram into your Halloween marathon night of freight. This list will attempt to narrow that window. Though it's not going to meet everyone and anyone's standards, no list can, and this one will suffer the same perpetual fate. No parodies or spooky-fun times though, this list will focus on those few films that persuade you to sleep with the night light on, with the blanket curled tight around your body; those movies that make you sleep with one eye open. These are the 50 Horror movies that accomplish such a trick during the time of treats and scares, but don't fret; you don't have to watch them if the nightmares they spawn are too vivid.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Two days ago, President Donald J. Trump attended the United Nations’, General Assembly. Before then, he had long argued, with many other conservative Americans, that thanks to Presidents like Barack Obama, we were the laughing stock of the world. On Twitter in 2014 he cried out “laughing stock to the entire World,” describing America as just that, and then he would find himself on the receiving end of such behavior as his boasting of Ameritocracy was responded too with giggles and snickers of amusement. Unlike the United States, President Trump’s supporters on the world stage are few and far between, but it was a clear message of how his egotistical matra of America has now left him seeming unauthentic. The same could be said for this country as a whole.

We, Americans, have long been a hypocritical state of laws and duplicitous regulations. From our founding father's inherent sanctimonious preachings for liberty for all, while simultaneously owning black slaves, a slave trade that was racialized in the latter half of the 17th century by those men who self-profess themselves as patriots. From there, they would go on to excuse the overtaking and downright slaughter of Native Americans as so-called “Manifest Destiny.” The rules and regulations of “freedom for all” as our Nation’s pledge described, in all reality, were not made evident until the closing decades of the 20th century, because if women and minorities voices don’t matter in a democracy, then it's not a democracy.

I say all of this not to preach on the injustices of our past as my alt-right family members would argue, but I state these evident truths to say that we as a country can not come to a shock on the events that are assumed to transpire in a matter of moments. That we, as freedom touting Americans, will succumb to the events of viewing an accused sexual predator be elected to the highest court in the land for a lifetime appointment, without judgment, without investigation, without admitting there is a reasonable doubt to delay the vote. We are watching a nominee become rampaged through the accusation of not one, not two, but three different women.

Why are we surprised by this turn of events? We all observed a self-professed sexual predator, a proven racist, and a self-pleasing man run wild to the oval office, did we not? Was it all a dream? Sorrowfully, I profess, it was not, and we can argue the necessity of an Electoral college and the integrity of the Presidency, but it happened. Two years later, some of us remain unable to grasp that reality, unable to contracept those events tangibly. I understand that collapse of reason; I sympathize with that jolt of turbulence that we, as citizens, have endured, but we must accept these truths to look towards the horizon.

A horizon that is unashamedly, unabashedly, and undoubtedly Liberal. My political ideology has never been censored or camouflaged by my words or phrases when praising or tarnishing a product of the cinema, and this will be no different. My family may feel that it is disgraceful to tout your beliefs in front of this digital world that they so resent, but I do not. I stand firmly with that of my ideological belief system, one that I am not alone in presuming as seen in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” we are a nation of liberals.

Where is the proof? Where is the smoking gun? Well, research of course. As, for some reason, most Americas seemingly forget that the access to evidence is quite literally in the palms of our hands. The evidence exhibits our tendencies to lean hard left, rather than to the right. With a 57% majority supporting legalized abortion, 58% believing that racism is a big problem in our society, 68% affirming that gun control is a necessary pathway for prevention, 73% encouraging the DACA act, 62% proclaiming health care for all, and rising statistic show that more and more Americans are beginning to criticize the ways of capitalism in support for the ascending popularity of socialism.

So, when congressman like Sen. Richard Blumenthal declares that the majority of Americans stand with him and the Democrats, they're not wrong. For my conservative friends and family, this scares them; it confuses them; as if they are witnessing the doomsday clock be set for the democratic experiment, but do not fret. Not all of us believe in those statistics I spouted off above, some of us do wish to meet in the middle on some of these issues, like that of gun control instead of a gun-ban, or that of economic regulations instead of socialism. The problem that arises from that belief is that no one wishes to meet and exchange discourse, fearing to lose a friend, a family member, or a loved one in the process of the debate.

When the electorate can no longer feel comfortable exchanging their opinions on public and essential issues, then we are straying away from the goal. We are straying away from the aim when we refuse to acknowledge fundamental truths such as global warming, systematic racism, and relentless sexism. The argument between conservative and liberal should not be whether these things exist, but how government should affect them. Should be with a strong arm or a weak one? That is the fundamental difference between them and me, one of us touts the potential of a strong government, the other, of a strong state. Why is that no longer the case?

A lot of us are playing catch up here, most of us are now just waking from our slumber or our hibernation from the political world. Some of us have never embarked upon this journey before, for us, it's a new game we have to learn how to play. We see the November elections on the horizon and begin to siege with hope, hope that this will not be the future. Hope that conservative and liberal can once again come to an agreement that democracy is not color coded nor gendered, but human.

I know this sounds like a politicians speech, speaking with words like “hope” and “partisan,” but we have to grasp that optimism. Otherwise, whenever we ask the question: “Where do we go from here?” We will respond with a look of disarray, of misery. For most of us, were already there, looking for a reason to hope again.

Confusing Race for Character

With the DC Extended Universe currently on the brain, many have begun to converse and dispute the possibility of a black superman. Over the last week and a half, the internet went nuts and roared when The Hollywood Reporter ran a story stating that Henry Cavill had not only been cut from a cameo in next year’s “Shazam” due to scheduling conflicts but was also parting ways with the character. Said to be hanging up the red cape, it began the nerdom talk of who should dawn the Kryptonian symbol of hope next? Many began clamoring for the young, but undoubtedly star-powered Michael B. Jordan to take charge of the character, a progressively empowered idea that was quickly, as predicted, counteracted with backlash.

Some making proclamations that they will never watch another DC movie again if it happens, and others swearing that they’ll be protesting alongside the white people if this rumor comes to fruition. A few people have considered this idea to be a last-ditch effort by Warner Bros to save DC, like a plea of pity for the Black audience to support the franchise. Least to say, it's a controversial topic, but I, for one, would love to see it occur on the silver screen. It doesn’t have to be Michael B. Jordan who becomes the Man of Tomorrow. I wouldn’t mind seeing John David Washington in the role. Whoever it decides up being, I am merely arguing for the inauguration of a change of shade when it comes to the Man of Steel.

I mean, the story of Kal El seems to be in kinship towards that of the struggle of being a black man in America. I’m no foremost authority on the issue, but he’s someone who is hiding his secret identity and abilities in exchange for a normal life. Someone who gains his power and energy from the sun, fighting for a people that glorify his power but belittle his humanity, and it just so happens, that his greatest enemy is an all-powerful white man who hates Superman for being an alien hero, instead of a human. A better way of phrasing that, a villain who hates the hero because he doesn’t look like him. How does this not sound like a fitting story for a Black Superman?

I don’t think this is where people have an issue though, for some of us, as comic fans, it stems from this idea of adaptation. Though there was a black Superman in “Final Crisis” from Earth 23 during Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke’s 2009 run, Superman has been a predominantly White character. The Kansas farm boy turned reporter who was a hero in hiding this whole time, but the question to be asked, is Caucasian a part of the character of Superman?

I don’t think so. Hear me out, Superman is an alien from another world, what if he were to land in Compton or the Bronx? Like Mark Millar’s 2003 3-issue comic “Red Son,” Superman is an ideal that can be manipulated into something different, like that of Soviet Russia Icon instead of the poster boy for freedom and liberty. It’s this sort of thing where readers and fans alike begin to confuse a character’s race for apart of his character.

To be fair, this does occur with some characters, like that of Batman. A character who due to his 75 year history would be inherently wrong as a black man, not because a man of color can’t invoke the pathos of the caped crusader, but because Bruce Wayne’s family patriarch is one of wealth and fortune, something that was never afforded to men of color until the 21st century.

If you were to create an entirely new Batman with a different story, that would be one thing, but the character, as it is, could not be changed in color without some plot holes being produced. The same goes for someone like Black Panther, whose idea and premise for creation is one of black prominence, a promised land of home for those who were stolen from their home.

That being said, there are other characters in the world of comics whose skin color is not a reflection of them, but merely a decision of the times. Like Superman, who was created in 1938, y'know, before the Civil Rights movement. Or like that of Wolverine, a character whose creation and representation is that of a man enwrapped with pain and tragedy, born out of a conflict. Imagine if he were black, imagine Wolverine born in the 18th century and fighting off slave owners, becoming a formidable force for freedom as a runaway slave. How badass is that?

The same could be said for heroes like Spider-man (Miles Morales), Green Lantern (John Stewart), and Superman. All of whom have both white and black representations in the land of comics, but Superman, unlike the others, has yet to have an extended run as a man of color. Why not begin that run on the silver screen?

The idea of the Man of Tomorrow being black, the premise of a man of color being faster than a speeding bullet, stronger than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! I’m not saying that it should be Michael B. Jordan, or that DC should put their heads together to create an entirely original role for a black character to depict, but to say that Superman being black is outrageous is a bit off-putting. He’s an alien from outer space, what part of that calls for him to be White?

A Love Letter to Marc Bernardin

Before I divulge into this elongated article of appreciation, let me make clear that this isn’t an articulation of my attraction to this geekdom enthusiast, although he is quite dapper. This isn’t some tirade on my secret appeal to the “Fatman Beyond” co-host, rather the opposite. This is more of a showcase for my affinity for a writer that seemingly has intoxicated me with his wizardry of the pen/cursor. We all need role models in life, both professionally, creatively, and personally. I have other celebrities and stars that act as leaders down those proverbial life paths, but Marc is one of those rare guys that feels like a kindred spirit lost to the wind of time. He plays a role in all three of those categories, fabricating this rich rapport for someone I’ve only met once in my life, and I can’t help but get it out there and shout it's inherently bizarre nature into the ether of the interwebs.

I know, some of you are already asking, “wow, you must wanna suck his Dick!” You’d be missing the point of this article if you believed that statement, because it's always a shared tradition among us, as people, to identify with someone we’ve never met and never interacted with, pinpointing someone who evokes a perception of appreciation. If your a sports fan, it’s someone you think is either the best or relates to your story. If you're a music fan, it's someone who is the tip-top of the spectrum, or someone who echoes your core artistic beliefs. As movie fans, we seemingly do the same and relate to those who achieve at the job we desire the most. If you want to be a director, you look up to Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Alfred Hitchcock. If your an actor, you aspire to equal the greatness of someone like Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Jake Gyllenhaal, or Patrick Stewart. If you are a writer, like me, a sucker for storytelling, for penmanship, for the innate ability to make words on a paper conscious; we find names like Schrader, Lucas, Wilder, Kubrick, Schroeder, Duvernay, King, Dickens, Gerwig, Peele, Sorkin, Miller, Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Ebert, Siskel, Kale, Glenn, Zoller, and, for me, Marc Bernardin as those we study and meticulously analyze to understand their greatness.

Marc is a humble guy, and he, along with those familiar with his name, will be a bit offset with me for placing his name among those men and women, and he is someone that hasn’t achieved those measure of successes, but he has become instinctively apart of the culture of nerdom. He’s someone that began as a journalist, putting together a 20-year career, writing articles for establishments such as “Los Angeles Times,” “The Hollywood Reporter,” and “Entertainment Weekly.” He went from reading comics as a kid to writing his own comic “Genius,” and now he’s one of the many talented writers behind the summer’s breakout hit “Castle Rock.” He’s an Ink Pot recipient and someone that has spoken truth to power. He is someone whose career path, can be an inspiration to freelancing bloggers and creators like myself, and I wish I could say I’ve been studying and watching his dreamlike journey for as long as I can remember, but I would be lying.

Marc, like most treasures, was something I had to discover. It was on Youtube of course, where after “Captain America: Civil War” I was scouring the internet for people’s opinions on the film. When I discovered a popular channel named “Fatman on Batman,” I fell in love with a channel of fandom and geekdom that in the middle of my “Great Nerd Awakening,” was something of a proverbial tipping point to push me back towards the subculture of comics, science-fiction, and filmmaking.

Let me explain that last bit of information real quick. When I was a kid (six to ten years old), I was a proud and loud nerd. I read comics, watched all of the animated series of superheroes, anime, Godzilla movies, and horror films were my second language. When I started the fourth grade, I reached that age where popularity became essential, where tribalism was now my new language to learn. It was the battlegrounds of identity for us as students, sprinting through the trenches of pop culture to discover what was cool and what wasn’t. Sports was that thing that I landed upon, I am not sure if it was my brother and my father’s fidelity for football, or just being a west Texas native where football is the most popular religion, but I attempted to mask my so-called “inferiority” for a jockstrap.

It wasn’t until my later years of high school that I began to wipe off the makeup, simultaneously there was a nerd-revolution occurring as my freshman year was the release of “The Avengers.” Suddenly, the preppiest of girls knew who Captain America was, and why he and Iron Man don’t get along. It was empowering, and my nerdom barreled out of it's locked cage and back into the forefront of my personality, and I began to catch up on the events that I missed out on. The “Secret Wars,” “Civil Wars,” “Dark Knights,” and I, inevitably, rediscovered my fidelity for the craftsmanship of filmmaking.

In the Spring of 2016, I had the semester off, and I began to experiment with this thing called “film criticism.” Learning how to dissect the significance of cinematography, screenwriting, performances, and direction. Educating myself on terms such as “mise-en-scene,” “production design,” “crane shots,” “tracking shots,” etc. It was a renaissance for me, and many men and women were apart of leading me down this path. Names like Chris Stuckmann, John Flickinger, and Screen Junkies taught me the basics, and then I dived into the history of criticism, gaining essential knowledge from legends like Ebert, Siskel, and Kale. All that time, my voice was buried beneath my self-constructed pressure to be as good as those before me. Confusing my opinion with theirs, I was overly critical of movies I loved and passive against the artsy film that others dug but didn’t exactly float my boat.

It wasn’t until someone like Marc Bernardin walked in, and taught me that my geekdom is nothing to be ashamed of, the apparent lesson that my adoration for nerdom and filmmaking was one in the same. Learning that I can praise a film like that of “Moonlight” and “Captain America: Civil War” was two of the best features of 2016, despite their differences in craftsmanship.

We all need someone to tell us that who we are is ok, that the things we believe in, we are not alone in believing. Marc Bernardin was that person for me; he was that writer whose love for superheroes seeps through his words, whose affinity for nerd culture echoes that of his passion for crafty storytelling. You don’t have to be a critic that nitpicks and belittles the heroism and spectacle of blockbusters while praising and acclaiming the artistic brilliance of indie filmmaking. You have to speak your voice, your beliefs, your passions for cinema, and recognize there is nothing wrong with that.

Bernardin was one of the first to tell me this, but he also taught me to be mindful of the culture in cinema. Notice the subliminal messages being tied to politics, race, and religion. Be unafraid to speak your mind on these issues, and to use my privilege to discover and raise others. Provide support for authors of color and female creators, that a diverse world is a better world. He is someone that I find myself obsessing over, reading article after article on Muck Rake. Discovering his opinions on things, topics I would love to debate with him on, and things that I find to be genius cloaked behind a voice that has yet to be given a stage to speak upon in massive consequence. He is a role model, a trailblazer, and someone who shares that common struggle of being black in America, a struggle I don't share, but one that Bernardin educates Kevin and me on as much as he can.

He’s not just an inspirational figure with that of his profession of wordplay, but he is someone that invokes my sentiments for diversity, equality, and empowerment of the youth. As I said, he is a kindred spirit, one that I was lucky enough to see in person, but unlucky enough to be able to ask him a question or spend my time dissecting his experiences and his advice. This is not a usual entree into this feature column of Flick Crave, but after spending my day reading, studying, and listening to the man, I couldn’t help but take the time to share my fondness and respect for him.

This is a love letter though, and it’s odd to say you love someone that you’ve never interacted with in-person, but he is someone that I can’t help but idolize. A herald of my campaign as a writer, as a creator, as a person. He is a knowledgeable, innovative, and tranquil articulator of heroism and pride. He is a silent leader, one whose voice resonated with the home crowd followers, and charms with his modest wit. He is my “Black Panther,” an icon whose heroism has yet to be heard by the rest of the world, but those who resonate and choose to follow his lead, are empowered by his generosity. He is a punk-hero, an underground voice, a foreleader of the future generation. He is the secluded genius in the bar, sitting in the corner and dissecting the events in front of him. I just hope to sit down and share a drink with him one day, that would be a night to remember.

The Oscar's Accessibility: Necessary or Egregious?

I’ve waited a week’s time to release my thoughts on the decision from The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to include a Best Achievement in Popular Film category for the 2020 Oscars. President John Bailey made the announcement last Wednesday, in addition to revealing changed details in the production of the show which will now be cut down to a three-hour broadcast, as well as bumping up it's cast date from early March too early February. In conclusion to those revisions, the Academy will also un-air the small awards such as Sound Mixing and Production Design, revealing those winners throughout the broadcast, instead of including them as a part of the show. 

It’s a whole new age for the Academy, one met by disdain and vitreal by Twitter. Many claiming that the move by the Board of Governors is one that collapses the integrity and legitimacy of the ceremony, celebrating spectacle and dismissing artistry. It’s a conversation that has sparked debate and consumed the fandom of filmmaking over the last week, and I’ve had my fair share of contradictions and changes of heart. 

It’s a bold move, one that invokes a response, to make a separate category that favors “popularity.” How the Academy will measure those qualifications for such a group remains unknown, but box office growth will most definitely partake a role in the classifications for achievement in this tier of filmmaking. The charts below display some evidence to the argument that the Academy doesn’t favor popularity as a criterion for best picture, as the last seven ceremonies rarely included films that were beloved by audiences. The most notable exception to that argument is James Cameron’s “Avatar” which remains to be the highest grossing film of all-time in global measurements, grossing $2.7 billion. The film would do well in the states as well, with a $749 million domestic cume. It’s the prime example for the counterargument, but many have described the nomination of “Avatar” as a plead or an apologetic move by the Academy in response to the criticism of their treatment of “The Dark Knight.” 

Highest Grossing Best Picture Nominees

Highest Grossing Movies

"Avatar" received a mediocre approval from critics as well, standing at an 83% rating on RottenTomatoes, the average rating being 7.5/10. On top of that, the film still lost out to Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” a film that grossed $17 million at the domestic box office. So the question remains, is this move by The Academy to become more “accessible” to a larger audience necessary or egregious? 

Being constantly reminded of the ratings drop that the ceremony has suffered over the years, it's worth mentioning that The Oscar’s was never meant to be a wildly popular show. It was a private party, a gathering of elitists, the night where “Hollywood pats itself on the back.” It was always meant to be that, so the films nominated or appreciated we’re meant to be the most artistic, the most daring, the most politically charged/relevant examples of filmmaking. In recent years, the political dilemma of the program has grown in waves, becoming the number one draw at times, to see how much trash these Hollywood celebs will talk about the president. (Not that I am opposed to that, he brings it on himself.)  

It’s never been surprising for me to see films such as “The Reader” get nominated over “The Dark Knight” or “Iron Man.” The Academy has never appreciated the experience of spectacle as much as geekdom or fandom. It’s always been far more attracted to reflection, specifically dramatic reflection. The hefty sweeps of emotion, the shouting and screaming, the films that reflect the power we have as human beings to intimately affect one another. These are necessary films, good ones too. Genre filmmaking has grown in popularity over the last decade in half though, as science fiction tales and caped crusaders have become the talk of the town at hair salons, coffee houses, and restaurants. No longer caged behind the doors of comic books shops or “Clerk” stores. 

While that evolution and development and diversification of fandom has blossomed, the Academy has remained fixated on the artistic shine of Hollywood. Providing footing and a platform for smaller and unknown films to gain some attention for the fresh voices they share with us as moviegoers. 

For me, I always saw the Academy as the night where my artistic side as a film lover was satisfied, where we honored those films that were relatively unnoticed by the masses. Not that movies like “Logan” or “Deadpool” or “Wonder Woman” shouldn’t be in the conversations for Best Picture or Best Director or Best Screenplay. These are movies that excite us and transport us to different places, but the Academy has never been about those movies. 

The Academy is fabricating a category as a necessary trait of modernization. It’s meant to be an example of their growing efforts to match the pace of fandom, an un-achievable feat seeing as nerdom changes and grows at a far more rapid rate than can be predicted. The point is to save ratings, to save face, and to give non-film nerds a reason to watch, hopefully. There is no reason for them to watch, and for most of us, there never was one. The Oscars can be a valuable tool in building someone’s careers, in providing a platform for new voices in the industry to be heard, in spreading messages of equality or #MeToo. It's a platform, a grand and prestigious one at that. It is both a night of self-indulgence and self-recognition for Hollywood folk, where they can sit back and reflect upon the greatness of the past and the future, while also providing legitimacy to societal grievances or cultural stigmas.

It’s a stage, for many things, none of which involve naming the best films of the last year, because the solution to the Academy’s problem, if they wish to address it directly, is quite simple. Open your mind. Open up to new ideas, to new genres, to new stories, to a new fandom. We all have our fair share of revelations as filmgoers, mine was recognizing my neglection for geekdom. Succumbing to the seduction of a “snob” critic’s ideology, pretending that a film with capes and quips is objectively worse than one that is sad, low-budget, and an indie-darling. Becoming more excited for films with the Sundance reefs than one with Marvel logos, despite growing up a comic book fan, despite growing up a fan of movies like “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars.” Excluding my childhood, I thought to become a film critic was the equivalent of falling into the formula for the disapproval of popularity and the endorsement of artistry, as if they couldn’t co-exist, a similar dilemma the Academy faces.

I recognized my blissful appreciation for spectacle, to be wowed by the silver screen, to be engulfed by an adventure or a character or a scene that reminds me of why I love movies. The Academy has to find that same moxie. Needing to discover what makes them who they are, if that is the constant celebration of indie filmmaking, so be it, if it’s an inclusion of genre filmmaking, excellent. Either way, The Academy will still need to discover what they’re stage is meant to be used for, if not the propagating of required societal progressions or the pampering of Hollywood, then what?
 

Top 10 Movies of 2018 Thus Far..

It's officially the halfway point of the year, and it's fun to look back on the movies we've already seen so far, and debate between them. This list is my attempt to be a bit more objective than personal, choosing the ten films that I believe to the best we’ve seen this year, though some are more personally favorable for myself. That list of favorites will come at the end of this year along with a few other special top ten lists, but the challenge at admitting a film you love is not as well-made as another is always a trial that exhumes new perspectives, which is what resides before me today. Answering the question, if the rest of the year was absent of new films, what movies would I place as the best ten films for someone to sit down and watch? Those ten films reside below:

10. Love, Simon

Though a bit unoriginal for never escaping the tropes of the teenage rom-com that we all love to loathe for its inability to be remotely realistic, “Love, Simon” uses those tropes to normalize a subject matter that still faces its own stifles on-screen and in society. Providing a well-directed and well-acted glimpse at a young kid facing the hardships of coming out and falling in love for the first time. It’s a heartwarming venture for any of us apart of the LGBTQ community to watch, as well as one that may allow others to see sexual orientation in a more relaxed view, though I’m highly doubtful.

9. Deadpool 2

As far as comedies go, this is one of 2018’s best, and admittedly one of my favorites of the year. I can’t help but notice the lack of necessity for its dramatic framing though, and while that flaw may not affect my top ten favorites of the year list later this year, it does affects it's ranking in this list. Remaining as objective as possible, “Deadpool 2” is a proper sequel that elevates it's heroes, builds upon its universe, and delivers more laughs than the first. The action can be a bit quick edited for my taste, and the unnecessary fervent addition to the tone makes “Deadpool 2” a merely solid sequel, sorely in need of some private touch-ups. (That was dirtier than I meant it)

8. A Quiet Place

Comedians directing horror seems to be in high gear as of late, and it’s reaping big rewards, making me quite excited to see how McBride and Fradley’s “Halloween” turns out. Krasinski set forth a tough act to follow up though with “A Quiet Place,” a film that is as thrilling as it is fun. It has some standard usages of expositions and some plot holes that keep this film from feeling as scary as it is thrilling. Feeding off of fabulous sound design, great acting, and phenomenal direction, “A Quiet Place” may not be as scary as others, but is so enchantingly atmospheric that it's hard to ignore.

7. Black Panther

I know, I know, I know, Wakanda forever right?? I know, but I promised objective ranking to the best of my ability and though this film will most likely rank higher on my top ten favorites list at the end of this year, “Black Panther” still has a gaping hole within its storytelling. T’Challa is a figure whose arch is almost non-existent, his hardships are underplayed, and he never feels challenged. He’s the crack to be found in the film’s mural of excellence because the unique taste of Ryan Coogler and the sheer visual identity of the film provides an MCU film with more bite than bark, which is something we don’t see often. 

6. Incredibles 2

The most recently released film of this bunch, Pixar’s smashing sequel is not only a box office juggernaut but one made with high quality. Fourteen years removed from its predecessor, it delivers a film that doesn’t feel as dated as you'd expect. Providing a coordinated societal message that was homegrown in the original, while providing some exceptional animation. Its superhero plot is quite easy to figure out though, something that probably should have been as clever as some of it's more powerful messages on fatherhood and the empowerment of women. Despite that, “Incredibles 2” delivers on all of our expectations but isn’t quite the impeccable superhero film that the first film was.  

5. Paddington 2

A film that has been overshadowed by the phenomenal year of filmmaking that 2018 has been thus far, “Paddington 2” is a child-targeted film that remains smart with its jokes, and it's cuteness, and child-friendly messages are nothing short of exceptional. It’s not quite the fresh story that the first film was, but it's 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and near four-star rating from us showcases that this little bear has far more bite than you’d expect. I would love to have some marmalade with this Blu-ray, please. 

4. Annihilation

Original, hypnotic, and incredibly intricate with its storytelling, “Annihilation” is easily one of 2018’s best. It’s stylistic direction from Alex Garland, and a unique all-women group of heroes delivers a lot of perspectives on the mutations of humanity that are equally riveting to the masterful worldbuilding. Though the film slows itself down for unnecessary exposition, “Annihilation” has to for some audience members to get what’s going on. It’s not a box office juggernaut, but it's another successor of the sci-fi boom which focuses on savvy audiences who relish in the challenges of the story while being endlessly satisfied with cinematic brilliance. 

3. Avengers: Infinity War

Though my review for this points out a multitude of flaws, the sheer magnitude of this film forces it to become a force worth reckoning with. I can’t say that my personal subjectivity didn’t play a factor in reviewing the film, which is the whole point of a review, but this list delivers its spot at number three for its incredible achievement of balancing a multitude of branching storylines. Offering action with that of drama, levity with emotional torment, while introducing fans of this heroic universe to it's best villain yet, one that is brought to life with an exceptional performance from Josh Brolin. It’s not near as flawless as the two films that rank above it, but its enormity of storytelling is something historic to see. 

2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Powerfully heartwarming and heart-wrenching is Morgan Neville’s in-depth look at, what his son describes as “the second coming of Christ,” Mr. Rogers. It delivers a multitude of urgent messages for a country divided by ideologies, reminding us of the power of love and how every relationship stems from the lack of it or the amount of it. Few documentaries get noticed by average moviegoers; this is one worth seeing. Providing an intimate look at a man who represented the best of what we can be, leadership that seems to be in short supply these days.

1. Hereditary

It’s hard to believe this film is Ari Aster’s first feature, especially since it's a masterpiece of horror filmmaking. It’s chillingly disturbing and discusses a hefty subject of mental illness which can be both terrifying and saddening, something the film balances between. Walking between the lines of horror and drama in which this film can evoke a deep level of emotion as well as lingering with its haunting imagery. Not to mention the immaculate performances from Toni Collette and others who provide another level of excellence to a film already manifested as something of rare perfection. It’s creepy, dramatic, intricately written, masterfully directed, and wholly original, what more could you want from a 2018 film?

Fandom Out of Control

This past week, the cinema was met by a whole lot of confrontation, which as someone who loves that buttle of ideologies and opinion as much as anyone, I was excited. However, there’s a difference between some favorable and respectful discourse, and strawman terminology to tear down the person more than the opinion being disputed. This editorial is meant to touch on that subject and many others in regards to the modern day fandom of filmmaking, or the lack thereof it, because you don’t see these kinds of disputes when it comes to films like “Hereditary” or “Call Me By Your Name” or any other type of low-budget, highly reviewed, stylized, or artistically manifested kind of film. 

Instead, those films go under the radar with little to no gripes from the audience, not because the audience loved it, but because of the lack of attendance from them. It’s a give and let go kind of a thing that makes the mass general of audiences look hypocritical, and we as critics usually have to bite our tongues for this, but viewers have lost their touch with the language of film. I know that comes with a lack of impact because I am not such a critic that writes for a prestigious paper like the Washington Post, or a prestigious site like RogerEbert.com, or a film-heavy site like the Hollywood Reporter. 

I know that I stand on my own two feet by my lonesome in protest, and it’s almost immodest to dub myself a critic when I maintain no press credentials, little viewership, and a self-funded, unpaid, blog. But I see more than 150 movies a year, keep the ticket stubs, read books about filmmaking and film criticism, and in constant support of young local filmmakers like Weston Davis. I put my time in, and though I am not noted for it or recognized for it, I feel that one day I will be, which will make this article bittersweet to look back on because it's on that is bluntly honest. 

I say this with the utmost amount of confidence though in that the massive amounts of general audiences are unempathetic, lazy, and unreliable as filmgoers. I am not asking them to see films and notice the framing of a medium shot, or the duality of a screenplay, or the relevance of a movie to something else from the sixties era of television; I am merely asking them to think. 

Challenge yourselves, be inspired to see films that are different or that stand opposed to your beliefs whether they be political or religious. Marc Bernardin once stated, and I am paraphrasing, that most filmgoers don’t know or care who made the movie that they’ve paid money to see, and he’s right. 

Few of them do, and if they do, it's usually because of some roundabout knowledge involving a director’s personal life, far more than his artistic outings. Like that of a James Cameron, who people were seemingly unaware of until his Wonder Woman comments, despite him being one of the most prominent directors working today. Maybe it's a short-term memory loss thing, I’m not sure, but general audiences continuously feel as if they're steaming with vitreal and disapproval. As if they walk into to see a movie like “Hereditary,” knowing the critical buzz it's received, preparing to hate it. Never attempting to understand why critics loved it, which leads me to my next point in that of the laziness of audiences. I have had too many friends tell me they hate critics because they hate Rotten Tomatoes because the site gave a film that they liked a lousy score. 

The problem in that logic resides in the steps it took to get to that opinion, Rotten Tomatoes is an aggregate system, using a significant amount of reviews from individual critics and combining their grades to average out a score of fresh or rotten. An important note there is an average score, it’s that small stat in tiny font that resides underneath the Tomatometer that you can see in a web browser, under that you’ll find the total number of reviews listed, the number that are fresh, and how many are rotten. If a film maintains an 8/10 average rating out of more than 100 reviews, that is an A to A+ film for critics, movies like “Moonlight” and “Psycho” and “Wizard of Oz” reside in this place. Something with 7/10 is usually something like “Thor: Ragnarok” which is a film that everyone liked, but no one loved. 

The point of all of that is to say that people get upset about a grade, never reading the full story into how that grade came to be, like reading one of the reviews listed. For example, “Get Out” was a movie that I, and pretty much any other savvy filmgoer loved. It has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the one review that is rotten has an enormous fallacy in the center of their argument, confusing the movies ideals and motives with something else entirely. It’s a bad review, one that you can argue with, something general audiences could do more of the same of, but they never read the reviews, but rather the last paragraph that summarizes their opinion. 

Then again, maybe I don’t want audiences reading our reviews. Not because I fear criticism, but because I fear the backlash, something that seems to be back in fashion these days, with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” receiving such hatred and vitreal that it's sent one of their stars, Marie Tran, off of Twitter entirely. Continually relating back to this us versus them mentality which has existed for years, in the seventies, it was Trekkies versus Star Wars fans, a fight that has gone on for ages. There’s Predator versus Alien, Michael vs. Jason, DC vs. Marvel, Anime vs. Comics, WWE vs. WCW, and the list goes on, but they all had a sense of respect and dignity attached to them. No one ever turned to racial slurs, political transgressions, or personal attacks on people’s beliefs and what not. 

For Tran, it was a bunch of so-called “Star Wars fans” choosing the dark side and redacting their fair criticisms of a film to racial invective, misogyny worded, rape and death threats. They were hurled at her at an unrelenting rate that drove Tran to do the rational and fair thing which was to shut down the access given to them, by her. It was an event that took up all of the headlines this week in cinema news, turning her Cinderella story of staring in her first feature film, which was a Star Wars film mind you, and being the victim of its criticisms. 

She’s not the only one though, Rian Johnson’s twitter handle is a mess, and Daisy Ridley stood up for an anti-gun political belief that was soon met with the same bitterness and hatred as Tran’s inclusion in the most divisive film of the decade. She’s been stripped down from her social media pages with nothing but an Instagram profile pic and a bio that read “Afraid, but still doing it anyway.” She’s not the first to do it, not just Star Wars fans, but the vitriol of the internet seems to have no bounds as of late as in 2016 Leslie Jones was sent off of social media for taking part in the “Ghostbusters” remake. Having a constant pile of sexually violent and racist tweets thrown at her that ended up driving her to step down from the technological world that is supposed to birth more connection and not division. 

It begs the question: what do fans want? Not only Star Wars but movie lovers in general. The only franchise with constant support from audiences is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise that, in all fairness, is usually more of the same than anything nuanced or unique. Do fans want that though? Do they desire mediocrity and familiarity over the risk of nuanced and failure? Are they okay with their favorite films remaining stagnant and unprogressive? 

It seems that way as if fans are shouting “if it ain’t broke; don’t fix it,” as films like “Black Panther,” “Ocean’s 8,” and others that are trying to breathe new and fresh air into cinema are met with some barrier, as some audiences seem upset by that format, though the box office may not show it. It’s as if they’ll pay to see it, just to complain about it, which leads to me to quote the princess of Wakanda, Shuri, by stating “Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” Shouldn’t that be our entire goal, to improve what works? 

I know I’ve already spoken out of turn, and I have ranted long enough, but the fandom is out of control. It’s reaching a tipping point that is driving film studios mad by this point, basically forcing them to become something their not, whether it's DC trying to start its own universe of heroes or Universal trying to birth its own multiverse of monsters. Fans are asking studios contradicting questions, and it's time fans take a good, long, hard look in the mirrors and either figure out what they want or figure out how to watch a movie like an adult. Star Wars fans most of all,  who seemingly have forgotten the teachings of a little green puppet who warned them about the perils of hate.