AMC, The Mummy, and Me

mummy_fandango

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

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!

Dr. Strange: Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

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Source: ComingSoon.net

MAGIC AND MARTIAL ARTS

This is a really interesting story.  In many ways it is the story that I was trying to write with my own story, I, Magi.  The creators manage to combine Magic with Martial Arts and the results come together surprisingly well.  Now, martial arts movies are a “guilty pleasure” of mine.  I know some of the earlier ones in the 70s and 80s aren’t really good narratively speaking and that the English dubbing is sometimes so awful as to have entered into the realm of cliche, but I love the action, the movement, and the artistry of the genre.  Recent entries, since the mid-90s have been much better and I feel they have come into their own thanks to great actors in the field.  I love (& have seen most of the practicing martial arts actors–male and female–and have enjoyed them immensely, but I have a personal fondness for Jackie Chan, mostly for the outtakes reel that he includes at the end of his movies).  There are two or three centerpiece fights in this movie and add in magic–and well, you have a strong action based movie.

If there is a downside, its that the movie is an origin story, so if you already know the origin of the hero, Dr. Stephen Strange, then you will have a pretty good clue to the first half of the movie.  Still, that is a minor complaint (similar to knowing the origin stories of heroes like Batman or Spider-man.)

A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR

This movie has a pretty good sense of humor as well.  From other reviewers, some of the jokes seemed to be hit or miss for them, but for me, I chuckled at the jokes, even when the set-up was telegraphed a mile away.  There were some truly laugh aloud moments, but the movie didn’t set out to be a comedy.  In many ways, the humor is much more sedate, more dry than say, the Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy.  The humor seems on par with Ant-Man.

COMIC BOOK MOVIE FATIGUE

Many reviewers seemed to be noting comic fatigue for friends who they took to see the movie and reported not like it.  I think that they fact that it is also as much of a martial arts movie as a “Marvel” movie also has something to with one’s enjoyment.  If you don’t like Martial Arts movies then chances are really good you aren’t going to like this movie as many of its set-ups and structure follow that genre and its conventions.

In many ways, the director and writers of this movie did what I wished Joss Whedon would have done (if possible based on studio notes) for Age of Ultron. They completely went to another genre–martial arts movies, just as the last two Captain America movies have done to a larger/lesser degree political thrillers.  Imagine if Age of Ultron had gone for a completely “horror” movie vibe with Ultron (and the twins) hunting/eliminating Avengers in pursuit of the “Vision” prototype.

I wonder if it is truly a case of comic book movie fatigue or rather a miscommunication of what genre to which this movie actually belongs.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

Fight scenes need clarity.  As I mentioned above, this is what I’d hoped I, Magi would be like, except that Magic is limited, so they (mages) have to rely on fighting skills to make up for the lack of magic available to them.  In the movie, however, I noticed that the fight scenes were clear.  I think that at times (especially when I try for action scenes) my own description breaks down and it is unclear who is where.

I intend to try to work on that and make might fight/action scenes more clear and more visual in the reader’s mind.

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.

 

 

Star Trek Beyond: Mini-Review (No Spoilers) & Implications

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Star Trek Beyond International Movie Poster from Shockya.com

Fun

So I saw the 3D Imax showing of Star Trek Beyond yesterday and I was really impressed by it.  Not to mince words: I loved it!  It was a fun movie and harkened back to the things that made Star Trek such a global phenomenon in the first place.  There are no spoilers in this mini-review as this is really more of “impressions” than a true review.  Currently, this is sitting at an 84% (critics) and 86% (audience) score on Rotten Tomatoes  and it is deserved.  On a quick side note: see how closely critics & audiences scores are when one side or the other doesn’t have an ax to grind (i.e., Batman v. Superman or Ghostbusters).

Good Plot, Action, & Characterization

Why are both critics and audiences liking this movie?  In short, it has a good plot, lots of action, and strong characterization.  Again, with no spoilers, the plot is strong.  It has a very well defined beginning, middle, and end.  The beginning reacquaints us with the characters and starts the problem.  The middle is tense and the end ratchets up the stakes in a totally believable way.  It follows “Fryetag’s Pyramid” perfectly–in a way I haven’t seen in a while.  The action is very well done, in fact, it is second only to Captain America: Civil War this year (so far).  I was very impressed with several of the set pieces in the movie.  If you can see this in IMAX 3D, do so!  It is well worth the extra cost for the action set pieces.  Finally, the characterization in the movie is also very well done.  One of the most fun things about both Star Wars and Star Trek is the interaction between the characters.  The script separates characters in a unique interesting way–it doesn’t stick with the “expected” pairings of characters and this allows us “fresh” perspectives on the various characters through their dialogue and actions.  I really like the way the dialogue especially was written and this is the first Star Trek where I feel all of the characterizations “match” completely with those of the original cast.

Rating

I give this one a solid A (a 95-98 if I was grading it academically).  Why so much higher than Rotten Tomatoes?  Remember, I’m a Sci-Fi/Fantasy reader and writer.  This movie was made for me–I’m its target audience.  Does it have problems–a few small ones, yes.  Some characters don’t get enough screen-time in my opinion, for one, but on the whole, this is a very enjoyable movie that has great action and great heart.  It is everything that I aspire to when I write (or what I’m looking for when I’m reading/watching genre works).

Implication for my Writing

So this is a new section that I thought I’d add to (most) every review/mini-review of works as I learn things that I can try to add into my (creative/writing) life.  One of the things that I noticed that I liked about this movie was the idea of inner conflict for the main characters. I’m currently stuck on “Project Storm.”  I’ve written the first scene and have an idea where to go for scene 3, but scene 2 just won’t come out right–and now I know why.  It’s the same reason that many of my characters are “ciphers.”  The protagonist for Project Storm has no inner conflict.  He has an outer conflict–to save his ship–but there is nothing inside him that he is struggling with.  Several of the characters in Star Trek Beyond have a clearly inner struggle that they are struggling with and must find their answers through course of the plot.

I think that I start drafting too soon.  I often know the plot (or most of it for short works).  I usually have a good grasp of the setting.  I don’t think that I often know what my main characters are struggling with when I begin the story.  I know what they want or what their problem is (sometimes), but I often can’t say why it matters to them.  I’m missing their internal motivations–why is escaping so important to my protagonist of Project Storm?  “To stay alive,” would be my answer to that question, but that’s not really an answer.  To be alive or to be free AND alive?  Those are two entirely different motivations and they change the entire story.  Scene 2 will play out much differently if the protagonist just wants to be ALIVE, or if he’s willing to die to stay FREE.  And I don’t know yet which one my protagonist would choose.  So, to my mind, I’ve started drafting without giving enough consideration to my character (& that to my mind is why I’m stuck!)

So, I’ve gone back and I’m trying to figure out what is the inner conflict that my characters are struggling with before I begin drafting to make the drafting process easier.