Extra Credit: Five Self-Aware Movies to Stream After ‘Deadpool 2’
In the weekly column Extra Credit, Charles Bramesco recommends supplemental viewing for moviegoers whose interests have been piqued by a given week’s big new release.
Fry up some fresh chimichangas, because Deadpool is making his grand return to cinemas this weekend. Marvel’s most kookily irreverent crimefighter made such a splash upon his 2016 debut in part due to his self-aware streak about superhero film itself. He cracked meta-jokes about star Ryan Reynolds’ past as the Green Lantern, the second-string X-Men appearing in the film for elaborate property licensing reasons, and the rest of his capes-and-tights brethren. He‘s sure to bust head-first through the fourth wall once more when the sequel hits theaters, offering what may the most broadly popular film ever to challenge the conditions of its own existence.
Deadpool doesn’t get so heady with the theoretical implications of his whole schtick, but plenty of other films have toyed with this idea of auto-consciousness. Some have done so for comedic value, others in a more strictly academic capacity, and many accomplish both at once. Here are five such examples, all of which are available to stream right now:
1. Man Bites Dog (1992)
The most disturbing movies of all have a way of implicating the viewer in the violence onscreen, keeping them off balance by making them a party to the crime. This innovative French film poses as a faux-documentary, a camera crew following a charming sociopath as he goes from murder to murder. With each new kill, however, the camera crew’s collective hands get a little dirtier, until they’re red with bloodstains. Writer-director-stars Benoît Poelvoorde, Rémy Belaux, and André Bonzel leave no one morally unscathed in this barbed-wire satire that aggressively poses the question: which came first, sadism in the movies or the public’s unquenchable thirst for it? (Man Bites Dog is currently streaming on Filmstruck.)
2. The LEGO Movie (2014)
On a lighter note: Phil Lord and Chris Miller strived to reproduce the anarchic anything-goes spirit of childhood playtime with this surprisingly soulful brand extension for the Cadillac of the toy building block industry. The main narrative follows a plucky figurine guy named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) as he and an assortment of pop-culture icons behaving like parodies of themselves go on an adventure to topple the evil Lord Business (voice of Will Ferrell). But out in the ‘real world’ contained within the movie’s artifice, all of this is revealed as the handiwork of a boy tinkering with his fussy father’s collectibles. More than just a cute frame concept, it renders the film a deceptively layered auto-critique of itself, a game of make-believe about a game of make-believe. (The LEGO Movie is currently available for rent.)
3. Rubber (2010)
If you’ve ever heard one of the more open-minded cinematic crate-diggers going on about “the movie with the psychokinetic sentient tire that kills people,” this is what they were talking about. And yet there’s a whole lot more to Quentin Dupieux’s bizarre meta-horror thought experiment than it’s Troma-esque logline; a group of onlookers and a local sheriff stand from a safe distance and watch the events of the film-within-a-film play out, offering their analysis and commentary with each new turn of the plot. The sheriff delivers an opening monologue suggesting that Dupieux conceived Rubber as an exploration of reason-less-ness, an inquest into non-content and a complete absence of meaning. So, yes, it’s all pretty conceptual, but his head isn’t entirely up his own backside. Funny and senseless in equal measure, it‘s a natural companion to Deadpool. (Rubber is currently available for rent.)
4. Wayne’s World (1992)
You gotta play ball where money’s concerned, but that doesn’t mean you gotta like it. The best gags in this spinoff of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey’s classic SNL bit, surely the finest effort to come from that ignominious subgenre, concern the uncomfortable commercialism of the enterprise. While talking with an oily studio executive played by Rob Lowe, Garth and Wayne use products with prominently displayed logos in increasingly shameless ways, until Myers takes a refreshing sip of an ice-cold Pepsi and declares it “the choice of a new generation.” 30 Rock may have done it better, but for audiences in 1992, the acknowledgement alone was a breath of fresh, corporately-subsidized air. (Wayne’s World is currently available for rent.)
5. Black Dynamite (2009)
Director Scott Sanders didn’t have a whole lot to work with in terms of resources when he made this blaxploitation homage par excellence, so he figured he might as well embrace it. This goofy deconstruction of super-brothers such as Dolemite and Superfly is deliberately rough around the edges, leaving in the shadows of boom mics and the sloppy edits that came to define its ’70s forebears. This willful amateurism seeps into the script as well — in one standout moment, a boomerang comes out of nowhere to smack a guy fighting Black Dynamite right in the face. Our man B.D. cackles and crows, “I threw that s— before I walked in the room!” as a retroactive explanation. Just kick back and savor the brilliant stupidity. (Black Dynamite is available on Starz.)