Movies Are Not Television

JossWhedonI was reading some angry debates on Facebook regarding a comment by Joss Whedon about THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and according to Whedon its lack of a proper ending.  Joss had this to say:

“Empire committed the cardinal sin of not actually ending,” Whedon noted during his 10-page deep-dive interview with Entertainment Weekly in this week’s issue. “Which at the time I was appalled by and I still think it was a terrible idea.”

To which your EW interviewer blurted: “You think Empire had a bad ending?”

“Well, it’s not an ending,” Whedon explained about the 1980 film, which had a cliffhanger leading into the next entry of the series, Return of the Jedi. “It’s a Come Back Next Week, or in three years. And that upsets me. I go to movies expecting to have a whole experience. If I want a movie that doesn’t end I’ll go to a French movie. That’s a betrayal of trust to me. A movie has to be complete within itself, it can’t just build off the first one or play variations.”

I think what Joss is onto is the problems with storytelling in movies and sequels today. It’s the fact that so many movies do not end when it comes to their stories. The thing about movies and franchises now is that they aren’t about good storytelling, they’re about driving the films forward and keep people coming back for more.  This isn’t television, and there’s a lack of respect for the medium of motion pictures as a result.  Television is more conducive to long term storytelling, because like the serials of the 1940’s, you can come back in only a week to get more of the story until it reaches its conclusion.  With movies, there is something wrong with having to wait 3 years or more for a story to continue or even end.  When you have a story and something to say, it’s about getting the message out to your audience, and it seems ponderous and almost silly to have to make them wait a year before the new chapter is released.  A movie needs to stand on its own and it needs to end.

That’s not to say that a movie like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a bad film, it isn’t at all.  I wasn’t alive in 1980, but when that film came out, I imagine there were plenty of people who were probably pissed off they had to wait 3 years for the conclusion, RETURN OF THE JEDI, which for all the anticipation wasn’t anywhere near as good as EMPIRE. Star Wars in itself was based on the 1940’s movie serials where people would come back each week to find out what happened to the characters. But again, people only had to wait a week. It’s not simply a matter of nostalgia or entertainment value that counts. What matters most is the story and knowing when an artist has a vision or a message that is important to them. If it’s a movie they’re making, there comes a point where the artist needs to say what needs to be said and move on. Whedon talks about the need for movies having closure primarily because he and his family come from a television background. Television opens up the opportunity for better long term storytelling. We need more movies that can stand on their own and get their message across to audiences, even if it happens to be a sequel, it’s better sometimes if people who are unfamiler with the original aren’t completely abandoned because of the sake of continuity.

Joss makes another point regarding the famous gun scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and how it was redone in TEMPLE OF DOOM for no reason other than for the sake of fans service:

Joss Whedon: Fan service can be a nice thing in movies that feature characters who people genuinely love. But fan service like the gun scene in Temple of Doom — and those like it — just make everyone involved feel stupid. I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness, but the worst part of the movie was the almost complete recreation of the Kirk-Spock death scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s not so much that J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof did recreate that scene, it’s that they did so in an effort to make people watching say, “Oh, I get it.” Great! I mean, of course you “get it.” How could you not get it? Everyone gets it. That’s the problem. The best kind of fan service is when very few people get it. Being beat over the head with a reference to a prior movie isn’t fun for anyone.

Fan Service as well means giving power over to something else, winding up taking away the energy of the film your trying to make. The idea of playing onto the audiences nostalgia, through self referential material or, say, parody, makes it difficult to create a unique and original experience for the audience. It’s as Joss says. We “get it”, but it serves no greater purpose except as an easy way to play on audience satisfaction.  We lose something as a result.  I have to say when it comes to fan service and parody, I found those things to be tempting to put into my own work.  But it makes it hard because many times parody can be an easy out  for poor writing.

Continuity is a tricky thing when it comes to movies and in essence it’s much harder to pull off.  The problem with trying to establish a movie franchise or a series of continuing sequels is that story lines tend to wander, and often times the character may lose sight of the thing they were after in the first place.  It’s why its important for a story to hold its own and conclude.  People shouldn’t have to wait so long to get the message, and at the very least if you’re going to make them wait and invest so much time in it, there had definitely better be a reason or a good payoff by the end.

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Breaking Bad Tour!

1234734_10200556207051117_176550352_nI’m currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico as I write this, and couldn’t resist the chance to take a personal tour of some of the main locations from the show Breaking Bad.  It was quite a fun adventure.  Many of these locations turned out to be right around the corner from one another.  The filmmakers didn’t have to go far when they were shooting this series.  On our tour, I picked out six major locations that I figured were the most recognized spots.  We managed to hit them all before sundown.  So here for your viewing pleasure, I present a tour of the locations of Breaking Bad!

WALT AND SKYLER’S CAR WASH

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545220_10200556325654082_1551919543_nThis is the car wash used in the first season where Walt had his second job, and later in Season 5 where Walt and Skyler buy it to use as a money laundering system for their drug money. In actuality, Walt and Skyler’s Car Wash is part of a chain of car washes in Albuquerque called Octopus Car Wash. I saw several of them as I was touring around with my friends. The place was closed by the time we got there, so there was no BB insignia or anything we could see related to the show, but it was still pretty cool as it became a major part of the show.

LOS POLLOS HERMANOS

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This was the Chicken Restaurant owned by wealthy drug lord Gus Fring.  The place is actually part of a fast food chain in Albuquerque called Twisters.  It’s not much different than what you see here, but the cool part is the Los Pollos Hermanos sign remained inside the Twisters restaurant!

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CROSSROADS MOTEL

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This site was used, known to everyone as Crystal Palace.  The family thinks Walt Jr. has been smoking pot, which was left over from Walt Sr.  To teach Jr. a lesson, Hank takes him to the Crossroads in a funny scene where he calls over a hooker to show him the depraved life that awaits him.  Crossroads as it turns out is a real life hooker motel.  Whats funny is if you look at the sign below, they decided not to change it, and it was the same when I saw it.  It reads: WELCOME. FREE CABLE TV. OPEN 24 HOURS.  YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME.

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DEA BUILDING

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1175353_10200555581555480_1413208575_nThis location was the exterior for the DEA office in Albuquerque.  It’s the place where Hank has his office while he searches for the drug kingpin known as Heisenberg.

COMBO’S CORNER

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This is the location where Jesse’s drug dealer buddy Combo is shot and killed.  It’s also the same place where Walt runs down and murders the two guys who went after Combo.  It is what it is, a big empty lot, but big stuff happens here, and it was cool to see.

SAUL GOODMAN’S OFFICE (“Better Call Saul”)

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Last on our tour, we found the location for Saul Goodman’s office!  And yes, funny enough, Hooligans is the name of the actual place used for exterior shots, which is a bar.  What’s also funny is they kept the May Hong vietnamese restaurant next door, which I guess looked tacky enough for the shopping mall where it was located.  You will also noticed the buildings were repainted to a kind of puke green from its original brown, which just adds to the tackiness.

I visit Albuquerque quite a bit, so the more I watch the show in the future, the more I will pick up on other places to visit.  The only places I won’t be going to is residential homes just because I think it’s weird to have strangers taking pictures of your house.  As a bonus, we also visited the Atomic museum where portions of the show were shot, although I couldn’t find the spot where they filmed and figured they must have brought their own backdrop props to the set.  Also as part of our tour, we stopped at the Candy Lady in Old Town, where they sold Breaking Bad T-Shirts, Heisenberg Hats, and even Blue meth rock candy! It was a great experience.  I’ll keep you all posted when I make future visits and see some other locations.

City Slickers (1991) Dir. Ron Underwood

CITYSLICKERS CITY SLICKERS is one of those movies I saw when I was 10 years old.  I absolutely loved it for the adventure of three guys going on a cattle driving trip in the open plains of New Mexico and Colorado.  The film was a fun experience for me, although I was a little young to understand the more adult messages of what these guys were facing in their lives.  I’ve only seen the film occasionally on TV but last night I watched it for the first time in a long while.  What struck me is the connection I had with the three men as they face middle age head on and wondering if this is all there is going to be in their lives.  Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, is 39 years old in this film.  I’m almost 32.  While that’s not quite middle age yet, I found myself more connected to these characters, watching them each face their own personal struggles.

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Mitch wonders if his life is ever going to be more than what it is, and the one thing that injects some kind of adventure and craziness into his dole drum existence are the vacations he takes with his childhood buddies Phil and Ed.  After awhile Mitch finds these trips a desperate attempt to cling on to his youth, but he becomes so depressed that his wife insists he goes on a Cattle Drive adventure in New Mexico and find his passion for life again.  On the trip he gets that and then some, as he meets trail boss Curly (the awesomely brilliant Jack Palace), who is one of the last of the real cowboys, and a downright scary fella.  Curly of course winds up being a reflection of Mitch, a crusty, grizzled, no nonsense kind of guy.  But he also teaches Mitch the value of finding the secret of life and embracing it.  He calls it that “one thing”…the thing that’s presently most important to you and you let that be the guiding force of your life.

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The other characters Phil and Ed are terrific as well.  Phil especially as he deals with the divorce of his wife, not knowing where his life went from the past 12 years.  Phil has to find a new passion for life when at this point he really has nothing left except his lonliness.  One of my favorite scenes in the film is the three of them talking about the best and worst day of their lives.  Ed has the most powerful story of all, talking about his best day when he stood up to his father who beat his mother and told him to get out.  It’s a powerful, sad moment that Bruno Kirby plays to perfection.

The stakes of the film build as the group deals with the death of Curly and two unruly cowhands who almost kill one of the young calves Mitch affectionately named Norman.  Once the two guys run off after Phil threatens them with a gun, the group finds themselves on their own with no choice but to move the herd themselves across the river and into the Colorado ranch.  It’s one of the things I admire most about this film is that once all the people helping them leave or abandon them, the three main characters are put to the test to safely get the cattle moving.  In that challenge, the three men wind up finding themselves.  Ed puts it perfectly that there are no more rules, no one telling them what to do, and that getting the cattle safely across is something he has to do for himself.  His friends wind up feeling the same way and help him out.

The irony though is that once the cattle are brought to safety, they find out that they are being sold to the meat company.  It’s a sad twist for the main characters as they developed an attachment to these cattle, and a reminder of the end of an era in the days of the cowboy.  CITY SLICKERS is a story about embracing your middle age and finding a passion for life.  Mitch laments in the beginning that his face is the best its ever going to look before he slumps down into old age.  He is clinging on to whats left of his younger years as he fears facing the inevitable with old age.  But that changes by the end of the film when he’s a little wiser, and becomes okay with facing old age, as long as he can still embrace the things that are most important to him in life.

I don’t want to forget also the great score by Marc Shaiman, and the wild rousing cowboy theme he wrote for the film.  It also includes a solid cast of supporting characters who help make the journey with our heroes, especially the great Noble Willingham, a dentist with his son eager to get everyone in the spirit of the adventure, as well as the brothers playing a take off of Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream brothers.  CITY SLICKERS is a great, wonderful film with a sold message and story.  It’s and enduring classic that I hope to rewatch again the day I turn 39.

The World’s End (2013) Dir. Edgar Wright

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And so the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy continues, first with Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and now finally THE WORLDS END.  The story is about 5 men in the town of New Haven, who in their youths went on the Golden Mile:  12 pubs for a pint of beer each in one night, but they never made it to the final pub, The World’s End.  Now 23 years later, Gary King (Simon Pegg) the leader of the group, wants to band his buddies together again to redo their pub excursion and finally make it to THE WORLDS END.  Only once they return they find a lot has changed about New Haven, one of them being an invasion of alien robots that have taken over citizens of the town.

The film is at times hysterically funny, and it’s interesting to watch as these guys aren’t exactly in the prime of their youth anymore.  It becomes more of a quest to succeed for Gary King, as that night 23 years ago was the greatest night of his life, and somehow he doesn’t think his life will ever be complete without being able to relive that night and reach the holy grail of bars.  His friends of course have all grown up, but, as Gary points out, they have become slaves to their adult lives, which is not to dissimilar to the robots that have taken over the town.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie was a fight in a bathroom at one of the pubs between Gary’s friends and 5 robots that looked like teenagers.  In terms of really great storytelling, the scene has a lot to say, considering these men are fighting with versions of themselves, the forms of blank empty teenagers.  Thankfully the sci-fi portion of the story is well woven into the grand scheme of the movie, and the men are forced to continue their journey to not alert any other robots, and pretend to be going about their business.

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My problem with the movie however was that I did find the robot story started to become long and extraneous after awhile, especially in the final moments where there is a tiresome amount of exposition trying to explain the purpose of the robots, why they had come and are doing what they’re doing.  And yet because of that, I felt more and more that I was starting to lose my investment in what started as a great hysterical ride between these five guys on their journey of the Golden Mile.  The robots add a lot of the extra fun to the movie, but the problem too was that once all the explanations started, the film stopped being funny.  It’s a hard thing as well, because my favorite of the three Edgar Wright films, HOT FUZZ, keeps the laughs brilliantly going, and not only is it funny, it gets even funnier and more outrageous as the movie goes along.  There is exposition in that film leading to the next step of what the characters are going to do to solve their problem, but that’s the thing:  it actually goes somewhere that makes the characters active and leads us into the brilliant final act.  THE WORLDS END actually ends the film on exposition, and it sucks the film dry by the time its over.  There’s no final note for it to land on to have everybody cheering.  It’s frustrating because the first and second act work so well, that by the time we get to the end the whole thing just kinda slumps.

That’s not to say THE WORLDS END is a bad movie at all.  Far from it.  It’s funny, and at times charming with its own human touch that made SHAUN and FUZZ work so well, it continues here with END.  It’s a little gutsy for them to do this, but I like the role reversal between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, making Frost the more serious minded one this time around and Pegg being the total jack-off.  Pegg is quite funny as Gary King, and it’s funny to watch Frost once he starts to lose himself into alcohol, having no choice because of the robot invasion.  For a good portion of the movie, the story holds itself together, with themes about getting older and breaking out of the servitude of society and finding your own freedom as an adult.  It plays on both extremes with Gary King who has no rules, and the rest of the pack who have been bogged down by the rules of society.  That all changes by the films end, and the surviving characters have their slates wiped clean, a new mission in life and a place to start over.  Of course, like I said, the ending would have worked better had the filmmakers continued our investment into the characters and allowed us to watch them find their way instead of having it just be explained to us.  It’s not the greatest way to tell a story.

THE WORLD’S END overall is a good time, and should be seen because it does carry the charm of the previous Edgar Wright films.  For such a crappy 2013 summer, this is one of the better films and a nice way to cap off the summer.

Checking In

BornyesterdayJust wanted to write a post and check in because I haven’t written anything for about a month now.  And it’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, I’ve just been busy with a personal project thats taken up much of my time.  But it’s worth it, and I think it’s going to turn into something really special.

In the meantime, I’ve been going to the movies and watching all sorts of films.  And to tell you the truth…I just haven’t been compelled to write about the movies I’ve seen this summer.  Most of them have been pretty disappointing, and I haven’t found that one film this summer to be extraordinary.  There definitely hasn’t been a LOOPER or a DREDD in the bunch, two late summer flicks that were extraordinary.  My last bastion of hope is with THE WORLDS END, which is due in theaters sometime next week.  I’m hoping Edgar Wright and his crew won’t let me down.  Among the films I’ve seen…there was ELYSIUM, which was blah.  It’s overblown message about class warfare and healthcare really just brings the film down.  I’m all for hard core science fiction, but this movie was just too serious for its own good.  And Jodie Foster…God…this is possibly the worst thing she’s ever done.  So bummed out.

On the classic movie front, I think I may have found a couple of films to go on my all time favorite movie list.  BORN YESTERDAY.  If anything, next to CLUELESS and ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, this may be my all time favorite dumb blonde movie.  Judy Holiday is hilarious as “Billie Dawn”, a young woman living with her wealthy and powerful boyfriend Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) who has congressmen in the palm of his hand.  Then there’s William Holden’s Paul Varrel, a reporter hired by Brock to help make Billie appear smarter to people in public.  However, through the course of her”makeover”, Billie start’s to wisen up to her boyfriend, and she learns that Harry is in fact a corrupt crook.  Crawford is also hilarious and the uncouth Harry, who is loud and brash and completely full of himself.  There’s a great scene as well where Billie and Harry are playing Gin Rummy that seems to pretty much define their relationship.  If anything, the game is one thing that Billie is really good at, as she gets into it with intense focused concentration.

There were a few other classics I really fell in love with, such as WESTWORLD and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.  I wrote about both of these films over at This Is Infamous, the new website I’ve been writing for.  I have a couple of new article’s up, one about Brad Bird, and why did he leave the animation industry.  And What Happened To Classic Cartoon Villains? which was another article I had posted.  This is Infamous has been a great experience and an enjoyable site to write for.  I’ve had to spend time trying to come up with more articles and stories.  It’s been good practice for me as a writer, which I hope to carry with me as part of my creative arsenal.  Writing is not easy, and neither is making good storytelling.  But it’s a major part of my learning curve.

I’ve been thinking about how much has changed for me over the last year.  For those who don’t know, I have been a mental health patient.  One of the struggles I’ve had to deal with was being on some heavy medication, which all but took away my creative drawing ability. The one thing I found I had left that I could still do was write.  Even though I didn’t always know what I would write about, I kept doing it anyway as a way for me to push forward.  Things have changed for me now, and I am on a much better medication that gives me freedom to be open and creative.  My attitude about life has been different over the last few years as well, and this run I’ve been through feels like going through the fire.  And I’ve survived.

There’s going to be a lot of things happening with me in the next year or so, and some of it I can’t wait to share with you when the time is right.  Life changes are always interesting and never easy at the same time.  It’s like being reborn, in a sense, and you begin to enter a new field where your destiny awaits you.  What is that destiny?  It’s the new life you manifest for yourself.  The life that begins in the imagination and lives in your dreams.  What you put out the universe will bring back to you.  That really is the interesting part.  And somehow inside, even if were not always not consciously aware of it, we know inside the things we want most.  Sometimes the universe surprises us with an opportunity that leads us to where we really want to be.  It’s our choices in life and our openness to accepting new things that helps us shape and evolve ourselves.  For awhile I felt my life was on the verge of complete disaster.  But that changed over time.  We are at the beginning of a new age, and things are sure to get better, but only to those willing and ready to accept them.

In a little over a week, I will be attending Cinecon, Hollywood’s largest classic film festival at the Grahman’s Egyptian Theater.  It’s a great event, and I will be seeing some terrific films and writing about them as I did with my article from last year.  I hope you will be able to come, it’s from August 29th to September 2.  There are some great surprises.  I mentioned before that last years biggest surprise was getting to see a lost John Ford film called UPSTREAM, which premiered for the first time in over 80 years at Cinecon.  And it was a fantastic film too.  I highly recommend anyone to come and check it out.

That’s it for now.  I have some downtime in the next few weeks, which will mean more writing for me, so hopefully you will see more of what I have in store for you.  Take care.