Black Panther, E3 and Me

 

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Image Source: YouTube.com

So, this blog was going to be about E3 (the video game and computer game conference happening on the West Coast this weekend), but Marvel released a teaser trailer for the Black Panther movie coming in 2018.  You can find the teaser trailer here: Black Panther Teaser Trailer.

I’m very interested in this movie as I was introduced to the Black Panther via a Marvel Comic that talked about the various gadgets and costumes of Marvel heroes in the early to mid 80s (it was the same comic that described the Mandarin’s rings and Falcon’s  wings/jet propulsion system) and mini-series done about the character when I was in High School in the late 80s/early 90s.  However, I discovered that the movie will debut next close to my birthday, so I feel that it will be a great movie to see as a present to myself, so I’m already “sticking a pin in it” as the expression goes.  I hope it turns out as well for Marvel and the creators as well as Wonder Woman has turned out for DC this year.  I will keep it on my radar.

E3

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This weekend marks the kickoff to the E3 Conference.  I am a very big fan of video games and video game narratives, and this is where the newest games and technologies are mostly announced for the upcoming year.  E3 used to be about selling games and software for Christmas, and while it still has some of that element, mostly its about things that will be coming out in the next year and building anticipation for things even further out (a year and a half to two years).  Electronic Arts’s Press Conference kicks things off later today, and then tomorrow will be Bethesda.  Ubisoft and Sony will round out Monday’s coverage and then the show will begin in earnest with games out on the show floor.  EA’s press conference (or EA Play Event as they technically aren’t doing “Press Conferences per se since last year) is scheduled to kick off at 1pm Eastern time (9am Pacific Time) and I plan on watching that before digging into some yard work that I’ve put off for too long.  If there’s anything fun and relevant to the blog, I’ll probably talk about the things that were announced that I find most interesting (games are doing some pretty neat and novel things in the narrative space these days).  In between the conferences, I hope to get some writing done over this weekend as well.

Have a great weekend!

AMC, The Mummy, and Me

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Image Source: Fandango

So, I was looking forward to seeing the new Mummy movie starring Tom Cruise–and then the first wave of reviews hit (currently 20% on Rotten Tomatoes).  Now, regular blog readers know that I have a rule–call it the World War Z Rule–that I will ignore critical reviews on movies that I want to see unless they are almost uniformly negative (& even then, I’ve been known to see the movie anyway, a la Warcraft).  This is what I’d been planning to do with The Mummy as I’m a fan of monster movies, in general and the Brendan Frasier version of The Mummy was one of my favorite recent incarnation/reboot.  This film, while not a critical darling, has all the earmarks of a fun, summer popcorn action flick, in the vein of WWZ.  However, as it stands now, I’m probably not going to see it.

Why?

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Image Source: Spicy Movie Dogs

Well, earlier this year, AMC bought out the local Carmike theater that I like to attend (it is only one of two theaters in town with IMAX).  Now, normally I don’t begrudge companies buying out each other, but in this case, the buyout meant several changes that happened almost immediately.  AMC did not make any substantial changes to the theater that I could see (no new seats, projection system, etc).  Everything pretty much stayed the same except for AMC branding.  However, AMC seemed to raise ticket prices–the charge for Wonder Woman was more than I usually paid, but more galling was the removal of option for buying a Small popcorn/Small soft drink at the concession stand.  Yes, I know that the concession stand is where theaters make their money, but a regular or large popcorn bag is just a waste of food (and money)–I can’t eat all that popcorn and will end up throwing most of it out and I small coke is all I really need.  I don’t like being “forced” to buy things that I don’t need.  All told, the movie-going experience for Wonder Woman cost me close to $30 and that was for one ticket on a Saturday matinee.

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Image Source: Boundless

Now I understand that theaters are trying to maximize their profit margins to get a return on their investment, but the high cost of seeing a movie just means that people will become even more selective in their movie-going experience.  Marginal movies, like The Mummy, that don’t get favorable reviews will find a much harder time achieving the coveted blockbuster status.  It will take a sure/proven hit to get me out to the IMAX screen now, whereas under Carmike’s pricing strategy, I probably would have gone to The Mummy, this weekend no matter the reviews.   That is why Marvel and Disney movies are seeing such a visceral reaction from the audiences: while Marvel & Disney movies don’t always “hit,” they do so with enough of a success ratio that families and movie-goers feel that they “trust” that they can get a good, quality story experience for the price that they’re asked to pay at the admissions window (and the concession stand.)  As for me, my next major summer blockbuster comes in about a month, and surprise, it’s a Marvel movie: Spider-Man Homecoming.

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Image Source: Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki

Did You Miss Me?

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I have been “gone” for a while and I’ve let my blog (in addition to many of my writing projects) languish over the course of these last few months.  This has been partially my fault as I have felt too tired, discouraged, or overworked at various times and in varying degrees during these past two semesters to give the blog (or my creative writing) anything close to the time required to keep pushing through as I did when I was a teacher.

However, one of my professors was instrumental in reigniting the fire of my desire to write creatively at a high level.  On the first day of class, she showed a short YouTube video about Neil Gaiman’s writing process that really inspired me and made me start to want to try to write again.  I’m including the link below (although according to WordPress’s analytics, no one ever clicks on the links to the videos that I include, but I’ll include it in the off-chance it will inspire someone as it inspired me.)

YouTube video: Neil Gaiman

I have started watching Babylon 5 (the first season–yes, I know it’s old, but it was on sale on iTunes and I never did get to see more than a handful of episodes during its first run–though strangely enough, I did see the conclusion, so I know how B5 ends–I just don’t know how it got there) and Stranger Things (I started with The Expanse, but didn’t like it, so I switched to ST and I’m about half-way through and really enjoying it).  I’ve also seen Logan and Kong: Skull Island. Expect Mini-Reviews for all those in the coming weeks/months.  I would also like to redo/revise my Marvel Movie listing as it is the most popular post on this blog and several movies, including Dr. Strange have come out in the interim and I would like to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

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While I don’t have a ton of time, I really don’t like not writing creatively.  If it means that I’m not a “true scholar,” then so be it.  I only have one life to live (to my knowledge as much as people rave about The Walking Dead, last I heard it was still only fiction) and I have to be true to myself.

I may never have the advantages that many celebrities have (like a Radio DJ playing a certain recording artist’s neophyte songs over and over for an entire summer until he got “discovered” by a major record label and now he’s an international star–true story).  And maybe I’ll never make the millions that the particular superstar is making, but if he gets to make the “art” that he wants because he had people to help him, then by golly-gosh, I’m going to make the art I want, even if I never have anyone to help me.  And if I die in obscurity and poverty, which is looking ever more likely as the years go by, then at least I’ll die knowing that I tried–and that’s all any human can do.

Interesting SubTitled Films

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Source: Yourlocalcinema.com

So sorry for being away, but I really wanted to make sure that I was completely immersed in my classes before I continued posting, writing, and doing all the things that I normally would do.  In the English class that I teach, I was showing parts of a foreign film and we were analyzing it, when one of the students asked what prompted me to watch this film that has subtitles.  For me, subtitled films are not a consideration.  As long as the film has elements of the fantasy, sci-fi, or (more rarely) horror genres, it doesn’t matter to me whether the film has subtitles or not.  I simply watch it for the story, no matter the need for subtitles.  This, however, got me thinking about some of the movies that I’ve watched with subtitles and I thought I’d list some of the more interesting ones.  Now, these aren’t ones that I think are the best–the first two on the list aren’t very good (from a narrative point of view), but they are interesting examples subtitled movies that make you appreciate them even though they use subtitles.  There are many more and I may (depending on time) update this list from time-to-time to reflect movies that I find interesting that use subtitles.  Below you will find the trailers and a brief description of the movie (from IMDB).

NIGHT WATCH (Russian)

A fantasy-thriller set in present-day Moscow where the respective forces that control daytime and nighttime do battle.

DAY WATCH (Russian)

A man who serves in the war between the forces of Light and Dark comes into possession of a device that can restore life to Moscow, which was nearly destroyed by an apocalyptic event.

KUNG FU KILLER (Chinese)

A martial arts instructor from the police force gets imprisoned after killing a man by accident. But when a vicious killer starts targeting martial arts masters, the instructor offers to help the police in return for his freedom.

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME

An exiled detective is recruited to solve a series of mysterious deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu.

ONG BAK (THAILAND)

When the head of a statue sacred to a village is stolen, a young martial artist goes to the big city and finds himself taking on the underworld to retrieve it.

THE WAVE (Norway)

Although anticipated, no one is really ready when the mountain pass above the scenic, narrow Norwegian fjord Geiranger collapses and creates an 85-meter high violent tsunami. A geologist is one of those caught in the middle of it.

Star Wars: Rogue One Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

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Source: Starwars.com

A STAR WARS STORY

Star Wars: Rogue One (SW:RO) is a stand-alone story set in the Star Wars Universe.  It takes the exposition from the “story crawl” for Episode IV: A New Hope about stealing the plans for the Death Star and expands upon it.  While not flawless in its execution, the story is well told and is an enjoyable Star Wars experience.

CHARACTERS

This is an ensemble film and I really like the characters that are presented.  You can understand their motivations as they try to complete their mission.  Some characters get more screen time than others, but the Droid and the “Force-Believing” character are standouts.

TONE

For all that it is a Star Wars film, the tone is actually quite dark. Without spoilers, it is hard to clarify why this is so, but be assured this one is probably as dark as Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, maybe more so.  It does have the trademark humor, but most of it comes from one character in particular, so when that character isn’t on-screen, many of the scenes are fairly gritty.

3RD ACT

Where Rogue One comes into its own is its 3rd Act.  The characterization and Special Effects in that Act really emphasize the desperate nature of the characters’ struggle.  They are fighting for something that matters, both to them and to the plot.  The 3rd Act is truly where the film is elevated from merely good to great.

RATING/GRADE

So, on a A-F scale, I would rate this as an A-.  It is excellent with a few small flaws that keep it from being a perfect film.  The earlier action, while necessary to both plot and characterization, sometimes feels as if it is just going through the motions to get to the stupendous final act.  Also, some characters are given more time than others and we lose out on characterization of some of the more minor characters, but that is just the nature of ensemble films.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY OWN WRITING

Having stakes that matter to both the plot and the character is a technique that I need to work on as a writer.  I often have things that matter in terms of the plot–if “character x” doesn’t do this something (usually bad) will happen.  However, I’m learning that I need to motivate the characters with some internal conflicts as well.  In Rogue One, Jyn Erso is motivated by a desire to find her father and later by her faith in her father’s words.  These are both internal to the character and intrinsic to the character.  Yes, the Death Star is bad, but that’s not why looking for the plans (can’t go any deeper without spoilers).  Her motivation comes not just from all the bad stuff the Death Star can do, but also how her father spoke about it and her relationship to him.  I need to do a better job of finding internal motivations for my characters.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Mini-Review: Deepwater Horizon (No Spoilers)

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Deepwater Horizon Mini-Review

Over the weekend, I went out to see Deepwater Horizon and I enjoyed it.  It was a good movie that looked at the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon and how a system of bad decisions and poor maintenance contributed to combine into a disaster.  While it is based on a real event, it is fictionalized so that certain elements are emphasized while other elements are downplayed.  The key the enjoying this movie is to look at it as a movie, not as a biography.  As a movie, it works well, similar to others in the genre: UnstoppableSully, and Captain Phillips, etc.  As long as you realize that they are trying to make a strong movie, but are not trying to give a complete accounting of who did what, when they did it, where they did it, and why they did it, then it is a very enjoyable and tense movie.

A Tale of Two Halves

Practically speaking, the movie can be broken up into two halves: the first part and the second part.  In the first part, we see the major characters get introduced and we are given a glimpse into the family lives and banter of some of the crew.  Many of the concepts of the oil industry are also explained for the audience using clever storytelling (i.e., show, don’t tell).  By getting us to care about the characters, we are invested when things start to go wrong on the oil platform.

The second half of the movie is pretty much devoted to the disaster.  We watch as it unfolds and the chain of events get worse and worse.  We care for the characters because of the time invested in seeing their lives and interactions at home and once they are on the ship.  The action set-pieces were visually stunning and were the highlights of the movie.

Implications for my Writing

I appreciated the way the movie was structured as it allowed for sufficient character development in order for us to care about the characters.  The fact that the characters were likable and talking about an occupation that I know little about from experience helped the audience to identify with the characters.

Secondly, the filmmakers used strong foreshadowing techniques to illustrate that while the scenes with the actors interacting might seem dull or passive, that these were necessary to show the “monster” that was about to be unleashed.  Foreshadowing the tension to come is an effective way to “hook” readers to stick around while you are character building.

Lastly, the action was intense.  We follow the main character, but we do also cut away to show other characters who we’ve seen in the first part of the film.  It is important to illustrate characters under crisis and to see how they will respond.  Again, the first half sets that up wonderfully.  These are three lessons that I took away from this movie.

Jason Bourne (No Spoilers) Mini-Review and Writing Implications

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Source: JasonBournemovie.com

So, before I start, let me say that I’m a huge Jason Bourne fan.  That wasn’t always the case.  I’m a huge James Bond fan as well, starting with the Roger Moore Bond in the late ’70s and early 80’s.  I’ve seen every Bond movie (except 1) all the way through at least once (including the George Lazenby).  For the longest, I resisted watching the Bourne films, but there was a sale on the 3 movie Bluray boxed set that I couldn’t pass up.  I watched the first one and I’ve been hooked every since.  This one was the one I was most excited about all summer (hoping that it would top Bourne Ultimatum after the disappointing Bourne Legacy.)

Good, but not Excellent

This is a good, strong, solid movie, but it did not surpass Bourne Ultimatum in my opinion.    Rotten Tomatoes (as of current writing gives the score: 57% Critics & 68% Audience.  I would give it a B- (80-83) if I were grading it academically.   That would put it right on the edge of being above average.

It is an above average movie that is hampered by two significant story problems (and several other smaller problems) that I think hold it back from delivering on its promise.  The characters are well done and their lives seem to logically transition from the old Bourne trilogy to where they begin this movie.

Unlike Star Trek Beyond, I saw two glaring problems that were large enough to affect the entire movie (& that’s why I think the review scores are a little on the tepid side.)

Problem 1: Good Beginning, Weak Middle, Strong Ending

The movie starts with a strong beginning.  All the pieces “are in play” to use terminology from the movies.  And it doesn’t take long for the set-up to pay off and for the action and intrigue that are the lifeblood of the Bourne movies to start.  However, after the good beginning, the Middle of the story seems be a series of moves all designed to get all of the relevant players into one city (you know it from the trailers–but I won’t name it less it may be construed as a spoiler) for the Ending.  You can almost “see” all the pieces being moved around on the “board” to get this person to the city, that person to the city, these two people to the city, etc.  There’s also a “ripped from the headlines” subplot that wasn’t very well developed and might have made the story better had the filmmakers not included it.

Problem 2: Deja Vu’

For me, who has watched the boxed set of the Bourne Blurays multiple times, I felt like the filmmakers made Jason Bourne too similar to another movie in the trilogy.  I won’t name which one specifically as I feel that would definitely be too “spoilery.”  My contention is that many of the things that happen between that movie and this one are almost beat for beat identical (story-wise).

While there were similar elements shared by the original trilogy, each movie presented an original idea and expressed it originally.  This film presents an original idea, but presents it derivatively.  

Implications for my Writing

Without spoilers, the resolution of the story was great.  But even better was the denouement, or the wrap-up, of the movie.  That one scene seemed to turn the audience (the ones that I saw it with in my theater, at least) from neutral to somewhat positive about the movie.

What I learned from watching the audience’s reaction to the end of the movie is that a strong denouement can turn the audience to your side even if your overall structure isn’t the strongest (although it really should be).  The movie’s denouement comes directly from who Jason Bourne is as a character.  It might even be the movie’s THEME statement about what Jason stands for as character in that film world.

So, when I’m considering what my character’s inner conflict should be, I might always want to consider deciding at the same time what is my THEME and what might be a really unique and inventive way of showing that through the main character’s action in the denouement of the story.