Category Archives: Film Industry Criticisim

Wasting Away, Banished and Exiled!

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Well, I suppose I’m over my childhood trauma that was Ursula.  As I posted awhile back, she’s the one Disney villain that completely terrified me as a little kid.  Took me awhile to get over that one.  Maybe I’m just weird that way.  Or insane.  Or both.  But anyhow it doesn’t matter.  This is just another bit of a random post.  It’s quiet again this week.  I’m trying to work on a personal project in the midst of another project that’s in the works.  So far this new idea…is just okay.  Gonna take me some time to figure out the story and what it wants to be.  Bah.  I hate not knowing what a story is supposed to be.  But I suppose the search for the story is all part of the fun of it.  I SUPPOSE.  Sheesh.

I’ve been on a Breaking Bad high as of recently.  Last night’s Rian Johnson episode blew my mind at how good it was.  Extraordinary.  Between this and his film Looper which came out last year, this is a director to definitely keep your eye on.  I’ll be watching this guy for sure.  He’s phenomenal.  Last nights episode was absolutely gripping, showing without having to tell.  It’s the subtext and the fact that this show actually makes you think for a moment that really amazes me (although trust me, sometimes I’ve had to go on the internet afterwards to confirm certain aspects.  Hey I can admit it!)  The episodes end made me long to make a film where just everybody dies or is insane.  And make it a cartoon.  Yes, perfect!  Although admittedly there are times I wonder about that.  What’s my obsession with making dark cartoons.  Maybe not always dark, but sometimes complicated scenarios.  I long to create a masterpiece of television like Breaking Bad.  Seriously that show amazes me.  I want to make animation that powerful, even though Breaking Bad is not animation.  Somewhere I ask myself what I’d like to be.  Maybe Pixar’s dark evil twin.  I had some people comparing Jellyfish Girl to a Pixar film, at least until they got to the end.  That was satisfying to hear 😉

I suppose there’s not much more I can talk about.  This is expected to be a quiet week unless I see a movie that blows my mind.  Oh wait!  I did!  BLUE JASMINE!  Go see it.  It’s Woody Allen’s latest, and it’s a real treat.  It’s as funny as it is sad.  Jasmine is such a wonderful, complicated character.  It’s a real genuine, honest depiction of a melt down into complete psychosis.  It’s just really good.  Go see it or watch it when it arrives on DVD.

I’ll see if I can find more to write about this week if I’m not to busy.  Have a good week everybody.

Slow News Week

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I thought I’d write an update, although I have no idea what to actually write about. I guess I could tell you I’ve been busy writing for This Is Infamous, a fairly new movie website, which I’ve written several articles for. I will have a write up about Cinecon over there pretty soon. There were lots of great classic films screened this year, all of which I had never seen before. Last week I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and you can check out pictures from my own personal Breaking Bad tour I took. Speaking of Breaking Bad, that show is going swimmingly. I am still amazed at how well thought out and put together it is. There is definitely years of writing experience put into it thanks to the passion of creator Vince Gilligan. It’s a great show for sure. I’ve been watching the final season of Dexter as well, and I have to say that’s not going as great as I would have hoped. The storyline has just been kinda scattered. You still can’t even tell they’re building up to a major conclusion. Everything just feels so…ordinary. I’m not impressed.

Sorry everyone, I know I’m rambling on here. I’m currently at my favorite coffee shop in Burbank as I write this. It’s been a good place to draw up inspiration. As well as getting on a caffeine high! Which is what my writing is starting to sound like. Geez. Anyway, I should probably stop at this point…no really, stop now! Stop! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Have a good weekend everyone. 🙂

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.

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.

Turbo (2013) Dir. David Soren

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As I said with my Croods review, I’ve been more and more impressed with the quality of films coming out of Dreamworks for the last few years.  They’re not all hits, but few of them have been downright terrible.  In my mind, they have been doing far superior work than Pixar, which has been a continuous decline in terms of creating engaging characters and storytelling.  Turbo is a cute, charming story, with some great visuals, and an exciting third act race.  It’s not always as hilarious as it could be, but the characters are enjoyable to watch and overall it’s just a really fun time.

Turbo, from Dreamworks Animation

One of the major aspects of the movie that works is the relationship between the pair of brothers in the film, the snails Theo (Turbo) and Chet, and Hispanic human brothers Tito and Angelo.  One of course is a dreamer while the other is a realist, trying to keep the other grounded in the reality of their situation.  One needs to get over their a snail, not a race car, and the other needs to live with the fact that they sell tacos, not enrolling snails in the Indy 500.  Which dreamer has the craziest dream?  Who knows, but it’s clear that Turbo and Tito are made for each other the moment they meet.  Turbo wants to be fast, despite his snail life, and dreams of racing all the time.  He especially admires his racing idol Guy Gang’e, the world champion racer at the Indy 500.  Turbo winds up getting his wish, when stuck on a car in a street race, he gets sucked into the engine, gets nitroed up in a special fluid, and gains the power of super speed.  In some aspects he gets literally turned into a racing car, with headlights (his eyes), backing lights, a car alarm, and blasting radio.  Gotta love it when someone’s not afraid to take some cartoon license.  Tito’s dream is to enter his new snail pal Turbo into the Indy 500, with the help of raising cash from other businesses in their outdoor mall plaza.

If I had any gripes with the film, it’s just one I have about animated films in general, in that  I sometimes wish these movies could be a lot funnier.  Not in a way that abandons kids with the humor, but I sometimes get the feeling that there could be so much more potential from the comedy, as opposed to characters just verbally cracking jokes.  It’s animation after all, and there should be the potential for far more physical comedy, especially for a movie about a speedy snail.  It’s the things we come to expect from animated films today…more talking and less action, and it’s something I hope to one day see change.

I suppose my only other complaint about the film was the need to make Guy Gang’e into a villain.  I’m not surprised they did this because there really isn’t anyone else playing as a main antagonist, but I think it’s worth pointing out that not all animated films need a villain.  In the race in the third act, Gang’e doesn’t really do anything “bad” to get in Turbo’s way…well, with the exception of trying to stomp on him to keep him from winning at the last minute.  But that’s also out of desperation.  The majority of the obstacles come from the race itself as Turbo has to keep from getting run over among other things.  Even though Gang’e is an antagonist because he’s racing against Turbo, it doesn’t mean he has to be a bad guy.  This is similar to the problem I had with “Rise of the Guardians” where the Boogyman was made evil and shown a lack of compassion for his situation by the heroes at the end of the movie.  I sometimes think it would be better and more constructive to show kids that antagonist characters aren’t inherently evil, but that they are people who are hurt or have problems like anyone else.  Making them one sided villains doesn’t give you anything to identify with, and it’s something most American animated films should change, giving us villains that have other sides to them and may not necessarily be bad.

Turbo is an entertaining ride, with some great enjoyable characters.  The visuals and racing sequences are fantastic and entertaining.  It’s not the greatest movie ever, but it’s a fun enjoyable ride that can be enjoyed by adults and kids of all ages.

The Great Escape (1963) Dir. John Sturges

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Well, now I can check off another great classic on my list of must see films.  The Great Escape is a pretty tremendous film, with three great stars in the lead roles: Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough.  I liked the epic feel of this story.  It’s a true story by the way, where supposedly every detail of the Escape is exactly as it happened.  I have to admit, when watching the film, the escape itself is an incredible undertaking as these POW men band together to dig an escape tunnel under the fence and out of the compound.

In a funny way, I saw the whole thing play out as sort of a game.  It’s the escape game if you will, and sometimes it’s funny to watch as the men have to come up with ways to make noise and distract the Nazi’s from the real noise their making in trying to dig through the tunnels.  There are secret codes and messages, giving the men enough warning when Nazi’s are coming while they’re in the middle of planning and executing their escape.  Then of course there’s Steve McQueen whose character becomes almost a running gag for all the time he has to spend in “The Cooler”, a solitary confinement room where he has nothing to do but chuck a baseball against the wall.

I also really enjoyed watching Richard Attenborough in this film.  Like most people of my generation, I know him best as Hammond from Jurassic Park, but it was great to finally see his earlier work and see what an incredible actor he was.  Already his clock is ticking and this major escape attempt is a risk to his life as the Nazi Commandant tells him if he tries to escape one more time he’ll be executed.  Of course, if he’s going to go out escaping, he’s going out with a bang, as it becomes his mission to get all 204 men out of the prison at the same time.    Attenborough gives a kind of understated performance, and a seriousness that seems to keep him driven to make sure everything goes to plan as leader of the escape.

The film plays out in three acts, each lasting almost an hour, with the first act introducing and setting up the plan for the escape.  The second act focuses on the execution and work the men put through to keep the Nazi’s unaware of their plans, leading up to the actual escape.  The third act focus on the 74 men that do get out as they attempt to flee Germany for Switzerland.  The final hour of the film is certainly engaging, although so many men end up getting caught, I was starting to wonder if anyone was going to actually get away at the end.

The part that confused me the most was the reasoning behind why Steve McQueen’s motorcycle hopping the fence was supposed to be such a famous scene.  When the scene was coming, I expected something far more dramatic and epic than what we got.  It turns out the motorcycle hop is filmed at a long shot, with McQueen hopping a four foot fence.  It’s an impressive trick, I guess, considering that McQueen did the stunt on his own.  But there’s no drama to it, no swelling music…it’s just…a motorcycle hop.  So why are people so blown away as to make this a famous scene in the film?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s just that it was more impressive for its time than the kind of stunt work I’m accustomed to seeing in movies today. But this just felt like a letdown because the stunt was fairly understated and didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Some of the other things I liked about the film was that it kept a fairly light sense of humor, although I am not sure how different the POW camps were from the concentration camps, and why the Nazi’s seemed to think the POW’s deserved better treatment (apart from religious persecution/ discrimination).  The prisoners are free to walk around the camp, garden, play sports, and surprisingly McQueen is allowed his baseball and mitt in the Cooler when I think that would defeat the purpose of solitary confinement for the Nazis.   Who knows.  I think some of the freedoms the prisoners had might have been played to give the film a lighter, not too serious tone.  After all, the movie plays itself with a sense of fun, and the excitement of the audience being in on the major escape.  Although, I think the darker third act makes up for the lighter beginning as we see some of the prisoners who aren’t so lucky.

Overall, I really liked The Great Escape.  I don’t think it’s a truly great movie, mainly because it plays up some romanticism/ “escapism” of the audience wanting to be part of the adventure in this prison escape movie.  The lightness the film portrays is obviously opposed to the much more serious things that were happening in Germany at the time.  But hey, it’s a movie.  I can enjoy the film for what it is, and if anything it’s enjoyable, well-acted, and a good time for all.