Tag Archives: Film

Some Villains Deserve Better

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I was watching the film EPIC last week, a moderately decent animated feature with a few notable flaws. One of them being having a villain without much in the way of redeemable qualities, who is the yang to the forest peoples Ying. His job in the film is to bring decay to the forest. In a sense he is a bringer of death. The plot goes that he gets bored with his job and wants to bring ruin and death to everything in the forest, making himself ruler of a dead, decaying world. This is not dissimilar to the film RISE OF THE GUARDIANS which came out last year, where the villain Pitch Black (aka the Boogeyman) wants to bring nightmares to children all over the world because he is outcast and bored with his job.

I’d like to address a problem with both these characters that I think is an issue with the whole “good”/ “evil” aspect of storytelling, which I think is becoming more of an extinct concept. For one thing, as I mentioned, there is the ying/yang concept. The light cannot exist without the dark. These “villains” have their job of bringing contrast to the universe. I say “job” quite distinctly because that’s what they’re here to do. In GUARDIANS, Pitch’s job is to bring Nightmares to children, with the effect of bringing more appreciation to the joys of life, such as the sweet dreams brought to children through Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc. It’s a bit of a thankless job, but if the bad guy has been doing it for thousands of years, you’d think they’d be above petty concerns such as the insecurities of being loved by the outside world. The same goes for Mandrake, the villain in EPIC who is a bringer of death. What makes things difficult is that the so called Good Guys are not accepting of these characters, and show no appreciation for the work that the darker characters do, because the “bad” guy’s job is important.

The darker element is not something that is meant to be destroyed. It’s something that is meant to bring an appreciation for the better things in life. So it aggravates me when I watch movies like RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, where the GUARDIANS wind up banishing Pitch Black into another dimension where he can’t do any more harm. Well, to be quite honest, I feel sorry for Pitch. I understand how he feels because he is in essence neglected by the heroes of the film. Why was he not asked to join the Guardians? He’s important part as to why the heroes are who they are, and if only they had shown him some respect in return, maybe he wouldn’t be so inclined to ruin everything for everyone else. The same goes for Mandrake who is also deemed a villain because he’s also a guy nobody invites to parties or gets any kudos for his job. Heck, even Hades in HERCULES does not get much appreciation for his work, and never understands his place in the universe.

They shouldn’t be made evil because they do a job that nobody wants. Someday I’d like to see a film where the darker element actually gets a little respect for the job they do, even if it’s to bring contrast to the light of the hero. It’s a misunderstanding between worlds.

When it comes to villains in most animated features, it’s difficult sometimes because there is very little in the way of making them sincere characters. They’re just evil, and it’s usually out of boredom because the heroes never show any appreciation for them. So it’s not surprising they would lash out. It’s one thing when the hero finds some understanding in their life, but to proclaim that the contrasting force is bad when it was actually there to help them, the hero never thanks the villain for helping them, and the villain is usually banished or killed. Villains are much more interesting when we get a peek inside their pain.

What I mean by contrast is that a villain often times is a symbol for the hero when the hero is out of alignment with their inner being. It’s through this conflict and struggle that the hero sees their own reflection through the villain, who is secretly helping them find their true calling and the heroes connection to their highest self. So when the hero gets the message, but then has the villain killed or banished, there is no appreciation for what the villain has helped the hero achieve. Because even if the villain dies, it will come back as something else, in a different form. Because the villain is a reflection. If the darker element is not understood, it will come back in another form until the hero does get the message. Maybe one day there will be an animated hero who will actively show mercy and thank the villain for what they helped them accomplish. A great example of this is HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, where the Witch of the Waste transforms Sophie into an old woman, but when the witch gets punished and aged severely, Sophie changes her outlook towards the witch and treats her with kindness. She feels sorry for her and helps her. There is a mutual understanding there.

I think it’s time for a change in the way we see villains portrayed in movies, especially with the hero much more actively understanding that the villain is not something to be merely destroyed, but is someone, or something to be understood. After all, a villain is finding their way just as much as the hero. With that in mind, maybe the hero could cut the villain a little slack in the end.

MONSTER’S UNIVERSITY (2013) Dir. Dan Scanlon

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Last Friday I went on a renting binge to play catch up on the animated features I had missed in 2013. To my biggest surprise, Monster’s University, while not a hugely spectacular film…I actually walked away feeling some enjoyment from the latest Pixar canon. That’s really saying something because Pixars features over the past 8 years have failed to thrill me in any way. The last great Pixar film in my mind was THE INCREDIBLES, which is where I really feel that the studio peaked in terms of outstanding and sophisticated storytelling.

There’s nothing terribly sophisticated about the plot of MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, which borrows from several different college films in the 80’s. Here, the attention is focused on Mike Wazowski, who is made the main character this time. I really liked Mike’s journey through the film. While he never achieves his dream of becoming a scarer, what he does find is a talent for being a coach. In the film he’s pretty much an over achiever, studying every aspect of what it means to be a scarer. The film does address such things as following your excitement and finding your calling.

Sully’s journey through the film is also interesting, as here we find out he was actually an under achiever in school, sliding by on the reputation of his father. Sully as it turns out knows very little about scaring, as his ego brazenly takes over because of the reputation his father holds over the scarers at Monsters Inc. It’s not until he teams up with Mike, and their fraternity OozmaKappa competes that Mike and Sully manage to form a friendship, playing to each other’s strengths to become a winning team.

I also enjoyed the amusing OozmaKappa fraternity, with their tagline, “We are OK.” It’s your typical underdog sports movie, where the most unlikely team has to face tremendous odds to win the day. Surprisingly, most of the competition stuff didn’t stick with me as much as the business with Mike and Sully, although the library sequence where the competitors have to get passed a giant monster librarian was pretty amusing.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY is an enjoyable film. It’s on the small scale for Pixar films, but as far as making more original films goes, Pixar could use a “Dumbo” sized film…something that’s more emotional and intimate. Not everything has to be on a grand scale, although there are quite a few sophisticated crowd shots that must of been a chore to animate. But anyway, it’s recommended viewing. Definitely check it out.

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.

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.

Check out my new gig!

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Hey everyone, wanted to give you a heads up that I have started writing for the film website This Is Infamous.  The website was started by Billy Donnelly (aka Billy The Kidd on Aint It Cool News). I will writing articles a few times per week, and so far I have a few that are already up.  Check out the website if you get a chance, there’s some pretty good stuff up!

6-3-13 Movies Need More Consequences (This Is Infamous)

The Diary of a Film Cynic (This Is Infamous) 5/30/13

When Cartoons Were For Everyone (This Is Infamous) 5/29/13