Mini-Review: Spider-man Homecoming (No Spoilers)

Over the Thanksgiving Break, my family and I watch Spider-man Homecoming (SMH) and we liked it.  It wasn’t our favorite Marvel movie, but it was still fun and exciting.  I thought I’d do a Mini-Review for the blog based on my love of comic book movies, Marvel movies, and Spider-man movies.  This one was very good–not the best, but still very good.

Action AND Humor
One thing that SPH really gets right is the action sequences as well as the humor of the character.  One of the crucial things that filmmakers don’t really get about the character is that Peter Parker is a “sincere” human being having to react to some of the scummiest situations (both in terms of everyday life and over-the-top villainy) that are out there.  His defense mechanism is his ability to turn every situation into a joke or a wise-crack.  Yes, as Spider-man, Peter is insanely powerful and gifted, but it is the humor that helps him deflect much of the trials and tribulations that he goes through.  While not nearly as funny as say, Guardians of the Galaxy, there’s still a bit of that irrepressible mixture of deft humor along with very strong action scenes that help to sell the movie and Tom Holland’s performance of the character.  As much as I disliked the high school stuff (see below), I think that Tom Holland’s performance of Peter Parker might be my favorite so far (I’ll have to reflect more on that as the year ends and I see it more times to be sure).

Straight Outta’ High School
So why isn’t this my favorite of all the Spider-man movies?  In two words: high school.  The filmmakers decided to “reset” Peter as it were, and placed a significant portion of it in Peter’s high school life/activities.  Now, don’t get me wrong, this is where quite a bit of both the tension and the humor comes in, but I’m just not one who really likes (for the most part), high school narratives in movies.  In this case, while well done, these were (again, for the most part) some of the least interesting parts of the movie.  Yes, they were well acted and all the rest, but having collected Spider-man comics during my high school and early college years (freshman & sophomore years), I really think that the true strength of the Peter Parker narrative comes from his struggle to support himself as a young photographer at the Daily Bugle with J. Jonah Jameson.  Yes, I know Peter originally started in high school, but I personally don’t feel that the stories came into their own until his college/work years, and this perception colored my feelings towards the movie.  I liked it, but I would have liked it even more had the filmmakers chosen to “age-up” Peter’s character (as I assume they will in future movies).

Marvel Movie Genres (This would be the YA Movie)
The Marvel movies have been good with mixing different genres into the standard comic book movie formula (well, with the exception of “horror” movies which they don’t seem to want to do even when it is the most appropriate genre–Age of Ultron).  However, this one would the YA movie, if that’s the case.  Much like movies like The Hunger GamesThe Spiderwick Chronicles, etc., the reliance on such a young cast and the focus on quite a bit of high school drama/activities makes this feel more in line with a YA movie than it does with a typical Marvel movie–not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.  I should note, however, that the performances by the cast, both younger members and older members, were excellent and well done.  I look forward to their next outing whenever Marvel and Sony team-up again to produce another one.  My only hope is that we move past the high school setting into college and work-life and that they can make that as compelling in the movies as it was in the comics.

Overall Grade: B (Solid performances, action, and humor, dragged down by an over-reliance on high school drama and a bit (not too much, but a definitely bit) of teen angst/drama).

Implications for my Writing: I have to understand that I don’t really like certain genres/things: the “heist” movie, “crime” movies, and apparently “high school” movies.  If I don’t like them, it’s probably not a good idea for me to try to write them in that I probably won’t be able to create a story that is credible and true to the genre because I can’t see past the “flaws” of the genre to do it justice.  There are probably genres that I won’t be successful writing, and the “high school drama” might be one of those genres.

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Mini-Review: Die Another Day

Okay, so I finally saw and finished Die Another Day (DAD).  Why is this so moments, you might add in the light of movies such as Thor Ragnarok Justice League releasing this month?  Well, it means that I have see ALL James Bond movies that have been released so far.  And, as expected, it was a slog–that was the reason why I missed this in the theaters and why I didn’t watch it all the other times it had previously been on streaming–it isn’t very good.

00Camp
It is way too campy, but played with a straight face.  It almost wants the audience to laugh AT it rather than WITH it.  Most of the blame for this comes from the story and script.  James Bond, particularly under the Roger Moore era, has some really corny and goofy things happen, but as I mentioned in a previous post, that was reflected in other movies of the era.  Much of the “campiness” of Bond during Roger Moore was a desire to appeal to American audiences who were far more likely to have seen/enjoyed a movie like Smokey and the Bandit–which is mostly campiness with a few places of seriousness.  However, DAD hit all the wrong notes.  Audiences in America  wanted a more realistic treatment of the spy genre–which is where Bourne (Jason Bourne) fits into this equation.  He was hyper resourceful and hyper capable, like Bond, but he was serious–no double-entendre, quips, or gadgets.  The honest-to-goodness down-home appeal and brutal/lethal moves when necessary.

00BadScript
As mentioned before, the script is really what hurt DAD.  From paper then characterization, to dialogue that didn’t work, to relationships that were unnecessarily muddled, etc., this is truly what kept this movie from shining–not necessarily the acting.  This wasn’t new Hollywood with its eye on the future and fingers on the pulse of the movie-goer, this was old Hollywood–you’ll like this movie because it is the next iteration of James Bond, darn it, and we know how much you like James Bond.

00Completionist
Still, for all my griping about the movie, it does feel good to have a complete repertoire of James Bond movies under my belt.  Until now, I’ve always had to put in that except or but when speaking about the franchise.  I really wish this could have been a stronger entry, but even successful teams don’t always get it right: Spectre for James Bond and the appropriately titled Jason Bourne for Jason Bourne.  Neither of these two movies did a great job in returning their characters to audiences in their last outings.  Both seemed to lose the thread of the character based on thrilling, climatic, and revelatory the previous outings before their respective latest movies arrived.

Implications for my own Work
I’m learning that character and story (plot) go hand-in-hand.  You can’t divorce the two.  For my writing, plot is what comes in first (99% of the time), but it is the characters that people fall in love with and invest with and I’m learning that I need to spend as much time developing the characters as I do the plot.  For the makers of Bond and Bourne, they perhaps need to do what I’m doing, but on plot rather than characters, as it is there plots that are hindering their characters.

Overall Grade: D (Below Average)

The Bonds are Back (in Town)

So, this won’t be a long blog post today as I have a lot of work to do over the next few days–reading (Sister Carrie), grading (Rhetorical Analysis papers), classes (working on an informal paper proposal for 19th Century Lit. class) and writing (Character Sketch Plot Outline for Project Skye–yes, I’ve dusted off that old chestnut of a project and am going to try to revive it just in time for NaNoWriMo).

However, I felt compelled to note that Amazon (I believe) is getting all the Bonds back together.  They are streaming quite a few James Bond movies in the month of November.  After writing the post where I listed my favorite James Bond actors, I actually had a fairly large regret of not being able to say that I’ve seen all the James Bond movies and that I had to qualify them by saying all EXCEPT for Die Another Day.  Well, this movie is one of the ones that is coming back so I am going to make a special effort to see this movie.   They have quite a few of the Bond movies from all 4 of the recent Bonds if I remember correctly looking at the list, but it isn’t a complete back catalog.

Still, for someone who is a completionist such as myself, I need to make myself watch Die Another Day–even if it is only for half an hour a day so that I can have a complete grasp of the character through all his incarnations and hey, who knows, I might be able to use Bond in some way in an academic setting or paper in some way And I just know that “Shaken, not stirred,” would make a GREAT paper title! 😉

 

Finished Goosebumps

So, for Halloween, I thought I’d mention that I finished Goosebumps over the weekend (well, not really–it turns out that GB is on the list to go away from Netflix’s library in Nov).  As I had seen about ⅓ of the movie, I wanted to finish it before it left, so I watched it over the weekend.  I have to say that I liked it.  It was more fun than I thought it would be.

It is the quintessential Young Adult movie with a few scary elements.  It actually reminds me a lot of the Spiderwick Chronicles and Inkheart.  It has a lot of heart and isn’t a cynical cash grab like some other “YA franchise films.”  Some of the students at my old Middle School really loved this film, but it has enough for adults too.

Without spoilers, basically, the movie is a “What if?” scenario:  What if R. L. Stine was real (well, he is real, but real in the movie’s world) and the monsters in his books were also real and can literally leap off the page?  It takes some of the most famous characters and books from Stine’s work and creates CGI monsters to bedevil our protagonists.  There’s not a lot of teen angst and the love story is “sweet” (not saccharine, but really nice one that actually has a basis in the plot of the movie).  That being said, there are a couple of cringe-worthy moments that kids won’t mind, but adults will roll their eyes at, but on the whole it is a fun movie.  And, to be honest, the movie earned major cool points with me for having Jack Black’s R. L. Stine character take on Stephen King on who’s a scarier writer and a better bestseller.  The scene is small, less than two minutes of screen time, but it was a nice Easter Egg for a former Bookseller/Librarian Assistant like myself who sold/checked out countless Goosebumps books.

Overall Grade: B (Above Average)

Here’s hoping everyone has a fun (& safe) Halloween!

Mini-Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

tmnt_oos_YouTube

The four turtles in NY.  Image Source: YouTube

Okay, so I’m an original TMNT aficionado.  I grew up during the first independent comic craze of the mid 80s and then watched as TV struggled to get to grips with the new resurgence of comic mania (the original Flash TV show mania and hype (and letdown) in the 80s is probably a reason why I never got super invested in the hype for the current slate of DC/Marvel TV shows).  I didn’t have access to a (dedicated) comic shop at the time (I had to buy my comics from the spinners at Waldenbooks or Eckerd Drugs–now Rite-Aid), or I probably would have picked them up as I was into all things ninja/martial arts at the time.  I’ve seen the original trilogy, the multiple incarnations of animated series, and own the animated movie version that existed before this current reboot of the franchise.

So, coming from a TMNT aficionado (won’t say fan), is this movie any good?  In a word, no.  This is from Nickelodeon films and it all but screams “kid movie.”  It is if they took the cartoon (from the 80s), mixed it up with the original movie with the goofy suits, changed the goofy suits to slick CGI actors, and threw in an 80s/90s mixtape because, hey that’s what Guardians of the Galaxy did and it worked for them, so it’ll work for us too. There are so many elements that don’t work in the movie–the dialogue, the shift in tone from goofy to serious and back to goofy.  The motivations of characters or lack of motivations.  The forced plot lines and betrayals that seem forced.  And so on.  I can’t tell you how many times I had to suspend my disbelief in order to keep watching the movie.  Even from the opening sequence where the Turtles are “skating” across the buildings of the NY skyline–which seemed like a good, cool intro.,–had me wondering about all the damage they were causing.  There’s a reason why city officials go out of their way to build skate-parks and encourage skaters to use them instead of city streets and curbs–the damage skateboards can cause is enormous, and that’s on cement.  I don’t think the glass that most skyscrapers are made of would fare any better–yet, the filmmakers didn’t even take that into account when designing, planning, or displaying that scene.  And it just goes on from there.

Yes, TMNT is supposed to be campy (they are teenage turtles who know ninjutsu), but Eastman and Laird were able to find the right balance of farce and heart in their depiction of the characters.  This one is all farce, right down to the “flatulence jokes” of the henchmen, which begs the question of why the “baddest” villain of all time (aka Shredder) would tolerate his newest henchmen if that is all they could do.  It would have made a better movie, had the two henchmen been created within the first ten minutes of the movie and hunted the turtles “to extinction.”  Sort of like what Kraven the Hunter does to Spider-Man in several of his storylines.  Then it would have made the “moral crisis” of the movie (manufactured as it was) at least relevant: “hide among the humans as humans to save ourselves or stay true to our turtle forms and find a way to beat these two hunters as a team/band of brothers.”  As it stands, the way this actually plays out in the movie is very weak and not very convincing.

Bebop-and-Rocksteady-concept-art-TMNT-Movie-2016_tmnt_com

Character Sketches for BeeBop and Rocksteady.  Image Source: TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com (a TMNT fan site).

On the whole, I only finished the movie because: 1) for completeness sake–I’ve seen most everything else Turtles-related, so I might as well see this since it is on streaming and 2) I’m trying to stop abandoning movies mid-stream (I have at least four movies–Terminator: Genisys–I looking at you that I started, but did not finish because of the overall hokiness to them) and I’m trying to stop doing that (although this movie sorely tested my resolve).

OVERALL GRADE: D  (My suggestion–watch this ONLY if there’s nothing else to watch and make sure that you understand that you are going to most likely need to metaphorically “dive into the kiddie pool” in order to get through this one.)

Great Actors in Small Roles: Madalyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach

011 Madalyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach_joesmoviestuffdotblogspotdotcom

I watched Jack Reacher: Never Go Back a few nights ago and I liked the movie.  In particular I like both the character and the actor playing Sgt. Leach, Madalyn Horcher.

“Helper”

The character of Sgt. Leach is one that is a “helper” character to the main character, meaning that this character finds out information and gives it to the main character in order for the plot to advance.  In function, this character is on-stage to provide exposition and/or plot complication for both the audience and the main character.  Dr. John Watson from Doyle’s Sherlock stories is probably the best known helper, but it can range to much smaller parts such as Sgt. Leach in this movie.  In many cases, the helper is put in physical peril, and sometimes dies, so this can be a thankless role for some actors.

Sgt. Leach: Understated

I think the reason why I noticed Madalyn Horcher’s performance is the “understated” nature of how she plays the character.  While I’ve not served in the military, my uncle and grandfather did and they explained that while on duty, there is a certain detached “decorum” that soldiers are expected to follow (sort of like Spock from Star Trek), but if you know how to read what’s being said and the tonality of how it is being said, there are a whole range of emotions that you can pick up from a soldier.  Horcher’s performance captured all of the nuances that I’d imagined in my mind’s eye every since my uncle told me about his military experiences.  This is why it is so important to look for (and cast) actors who can bring the right emotional intensity to a specific role.

While the movie wasn’t necessarily a critical success, nevertheless it was a pretty interesting story made better by the actors in both small and large roles.

 

 

Dark Tower Redux

 

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You know, I’m almost sorry that I posted that I was conflicted about the failure of the Dark Tower movie to connect with fans.  I mean, this very blog takes its name from a line that Jake speaks in the first book (paraphrasing): “Go then, Gunslinger.  There are Other Worlds Beside this one).  My point being simply that Stephen King DID NOT invent the Dark Tower or the mythos that has grown up around it.  His story is but ONE of MANY out there–yes, it is the most popular, but it is NOT the only story that has been told or will be told about the Dark Tower.  He doesn’t own the Tower anymore than J.K. Rowling owns “Magic.”

However, some really ugly arguments and memes have sprung up around the failure of the movie and just want to take a moment to address some of the most problematic ones.

SCRIPT
So this is where most of the critics and fans have expressed most of their disappointment.  The movie is only approx. 90 minutes long, but tries to infuse 7-8 books worth of material (from my understanding–haven’t seen the movie yet) into this (very) short time-frame.  However, the element that really concerns is the fact the movie writers are essentially “work-for-hire” contractors and considered the lowest on the totem pole for the creative endeavor of the movie.  This is where the problem lies–a movie is a creative endeavor, true, and you need all parts to work, but the script (the story) is the most important part.  Without a solid script, even the best actors and directors are going to struggle.  Yet, writers of screenplays get no version of royalties if the movie does really well nor is their input sought (usually) for rewrites as in many cases they are replaced with other writers and movies become written essentially by committee.  Another thing that hurts writers is the fact that it is a closed system that privileges only a few.  Even in today’s internet connected world, you still have to move to Hollywood if you really want a serious chance at writing a screenplay–how is this even still a requirement in 2017?  If there’s an awesome screenwriter in Wisconsin, the internet is MORE than robust enough to allow that writer to write wherever works for them.

IDRIS ELBA AS ROLAND
This one is the most troubling.  Yes, King based Roland on the “gunslinger” archetype made popular by actors like Clint Eastwood and Yul Brynner.  However, nothing precludes Roland from being portrayed by an actor of another race, even though King’s description may have indicated/favored another race.  There is a tendency on the Internet today to label a person, or group just to be able to belittle said person or group.  Everyone wants a winner, or wants to be associated with a winner.  However, in a capitalistic structure such as the American movie industry there HAVE be winners and losers–there’s no way around it.  You can do things to help swing the pendulum in either direction, but there are no guarantees in a creative endeavor.  If it doesn’t “win,” then there’s this need to find a scapegoat and the Internet is currently on this kick where a diverse person/group gets the blame irregardless of whether or not its fair (I direct your attention to the 2016 Ghostbusters movie as prime example of this).

SONY
Speaking of Sony, I should probably note that Sony also has taken blame in this from many circles.  Sony, as a huge faceless conglomerate, tends to get a lot of blame for things that are beyond their control.  We (probably wrongly) think of the director as the most important component of a movie (I would argue it is probably an equal weight between writer, director, and movie talent), but I haven’t seen or heard anyone criticizing the director, but the studio.

We all hope for our favorite properties to “hit it out of the park” (a la The Lord of the Rings), but at the end of the day–is it the studio that failed to deliever on the story you wanted or was it the script?  Which of the two is more intricately tied to “story” and “story” formation, ideation, and creation?  For me, opening up the system and allowing it to be based on merit (good writers) and not location (living in Hollywood) or more importantly, networking (good a “pitching” a story instead of good at “writing” the story) would be a far more equitable system that might result in a rise in quality in the stories being told, and as a result, increased satisfaction from fans who just want their stories “done right.”