May 17, 2013
Pure space opera, delightfully old school. As we know I’m a sucker for big spaceships, and oh they were so beautiful.
The plot. . .standard, and some of the details didn’t pass the refrigerator test. (Is your disbelief suspended until you get home to get a drink from the fridge?) Heck, they didn’t pass the two second test. So it’s best to skate as fast as possible through this thing. Too bad most of the action scenes went on twice as long as they needed to. That’s my big complaint. And there was some really goofy science. Cold fusion? Really? I do not think this means what you think it means…
But there also was a lot to love: Peter Weller and Noel Clarke, for example. Uhura speaking Klingon. Pretty, pretty spaceships. Some fan service in the climactic moment that I thought was marvelous, but some of my companions thought was goofy. To say more would be a spoiler. But did anyone but an old fan even get what was going on there?
Also, does it strike anyone else that the Enterprise is basically structurally unsound in its entirety?
HUGE SPOILER BELOW, WHERE I HAVE REWRITTEN A PORTION OF THE MOVIE IN MY HEAD BECAUSE I COULD:
There’s a moment in this movie where the story could have zigged instead of zagging — and I think I prefer the zig. Like, what if Khan isn’t the bad guy? This is an alternate timeline. Things are different here. What if old Spock tells new Spock this is the most horrible person ever — but before Spock can tell Kirk, Kirk has decided to give Khan a chance. Kirk decides not to stun Khan on the bridge of the Vengeance. Khan has been used and manipulated, and at this point he needs an ally — he’s planned on betraying Kirk, but has a change of heart because of the trust Kirk shows. Because Admiral Marcus is the real bad guy who’s manipulated them both. What if what if what if… It’s a missed opportunity, I think. The new Trek movies seem intent on rehashing old plot lines in shiny new ways (tribble cameo, anyone?). Why not really make it alternate? Really upend our expectations?
Anyway, that’s how I would have done it.
May 13, 2013
The Short Review: It’s like the hood ornament on the Duesenberg is coming RIGHT AT YOU!
Longer Review: Confession: I haven’t read the book. Mostly because it’s one of those books that everybody already knows what it’s about — the green light, Jazz Age excess, yadda yadda. But I want to read it and I’ll do it soon, if nothing else than to see how much text the movie lifted for that incessant, droning, never-ending voiceover in the third act.
Another confession: I mostly went for the clothes and music, because I am the person who wore a beaded flapper dress to the Hugo Awards at Worldcon in Reno. These were great. I got some Charleston. That’s all I really wanted out of the movie.
Really, I enjoyed the movie immensely through the first two acts. It was manic, energetic, full of beautiful scenery and beautiful people, with a driving pace that cohered well. It even felt relevant, in these days of 1% v. 99% and discussions of superficiality and nihilism. Now, if the move had actually had something to say about superficiality and nihilism, it would have been golden. But then we got to the third act.
Holy cow did this movie fall apart in the third act. Third acts are supposed to be culminations. They’re supposed to be frenetic. They’re supposed to be when all the pieces that have been put into play come together and the inevitable happens. Movies, even quiet and thoughtful ones, even ones about people destroying themselves through bad decisions, are supposed to get more interesting in the third act. This one, for all its manic energy and artfulness up to that point, screeched to a dead stop. I swear to God, the argument in the Plaza went on for twenty minutes, and all any of us really wanted at that point was for someone to use that damned ice pick on somebody else. It just went on, and on, and on, and on…we get Gatbsy’s back story like three different times, and every argument gets rehashed like five times, and we get to see the [spoiler] from like three different camera angles, at three different times.
Holy crap somebody take an ax to this thing!
We also decided that The Great Gatsby and Moby Dick, two Great American Novels, are actually the same story — the passionate, all-consuming search for an elusive, destructive creature. So I drew a picture of a sperm whale wearing a flapper dress.
May 10, 2013
I have a busy stretch coming up. I’m heading out for a workshop in a week or so, and in the meantime I’m entering the homestretch of “the Cormac novel.” (I have a title, but I have a feeling the publisher may not like it, so I’m keeping it under wraps for now.) Oh, and I still have to revise the story for said workshop. And my washing machine gave out and needs replacing. And…and… Yeah. Brain’s full.
So here are some links to keep you busy. In my review I mentioned two big tropes that Iron Man 3 subverted, or at least played with with a tremendous amount of self-awareness and panache, making the film pretty darned smart to my English major eyes. Other people are talking about them, too.
May 6, 2013
Whoa….I don’t even… I mean, there’s the thing, and then the other thing, and OMG Ben Kingsley! And who is that actor….GUY PEARCE?!? And then…omigosh…I mean…it’s just like….and then the Easter Egg! And Pepper! And the Easter Egg! And….and…and….and the part where they totally subverted that one trope that I can’t talk about because it’s a spoiler, and then they subverted that other trope that’s also a spoiler….and….and I can’t even articulate –
I’m fourteen years old and reading my favorite comic book. That’s what it’s like.
Redacted spoiler! No really, this is a big one: As my friend said, it’s like they tried to stuff Pepper in the fridge. But then Pepper ripped the door off and beat the shit out of the bad guys with it. Yeah, it’s like that.
May 3, 2013
May the Fourth be with you!
One of the nerdiest debates you can get involved in is about what order you should watch the Star Wars movies. Release order, episode order (decried because it ruins the surprise of who Luke’s father is), or no prequels at all. Then there are some more creative reorderings. Last weekend a group of us sat down to test out the highly-regarded Machete Order. (This link goes to a long post, but it’s worth it if you have any interest at all in reading a well-articulated discussion about Star Wars and the joys and problems of its film incarnations.)
Machete Order is this: Episodes IV, V, II, III, VI.
Shocking, the first time you see it, isn’t it? You watch IV and V, then break for a huge flashback about how everything got this way, then get the grand finale. And you skip Episode I entirely. For an orthodox fan like myself, skipping Episode I has the great benefits of leaving out Qui Gon, who doesn’t really have an impact on the rest of the story; leaving out midichlorians, which fill so many of us with a burning rage; skipping most of Jar Jar, because of course; and leaving out 8-year old Anakin, which means you don’t spend the rest of the movies trying to ignore the fact that Padme started out as Anakin’s babysitter and there’s this faint inappropriateness about their entire relationship. So we all totally wanted to give this a try, coming to it with as clear and open minds as we could manage. How did it go?
My biggest conclusion? You don’t even need Episode II. Just slide straight into Episode III and save yourself a couple of hours. I’ll get to that in a second, after a couple of other thoughts.
It was the hardest thing in the world, not immediately putting on Return of the Jedi after Empire. I had to physically restrain myself from reaching for the Jedi DVD rather than Attack of the Clones. I’ve gotten to a point where IV, V, and VI all feel like one movie to me. Breaking that habit was hard.
It’s so interesting to me as a writer that Episode I really is superfluous. It’s a prologue and little more. Darth Maul never gets mentioned again, Qui Gon barely gets mentioned again. Pretty much nothing that happens has an impact on the rest of the series, except it moves a few pieces around to get them into position for later events. Why not just start with those pieces in the right place to begin with?
Turns out, the same is true of Attack of the Clones. I hadn’t seen this in ten years so coming to it fresh was interesting, because I got to really study it this time. And it’s also just moving pieces around, and nothing the characters do has an impact on the later story. The best thing in it is the giant Jedi battle — but that gets drowned out by the giant, messy droid v. clone trooper battle that happens right after. Sound and fury, man — you know the rest of the quote. Also, the Anakin/Padme relationship is totally creepy in this one. He’s a clingy stalker kid — and then she just decides to fall in love with him for no particular reason. WTF?
Revenge of the Sith pretty much reiterates everything that happened in Attack of the Clones. Separatists, check. Droid army, check. Clone army, check. Conspiracy, check. Anakin filled with ambition and rage, check. But if you start with Revenge of the Sith, you don’t have to try to forget about how creepy the Anakin/Padme thing has been up until now. They’re just two people in love and you buy it and it’s great. Also, the battle above Coruscant really is one of the most impressive set pieces in the series. Think about the cliffhanger of Empire, flowing into that — ooh, yeah. It says, “You thought the war between the Rebel Alliance and Empire was bad? This is what the war to try to save the Republic looked like.”
The very worst thing about just watching Revenge of the Sith: Padme does absolutely nothing in this movie but sit in her room and brush her hair. Seriously. It’s so frakking aggravating.
My second biggest conclusion is the prequel movies suffer from being watched in close proximity to the originals (in my humble opinion). Take the big battle on Geonosis at the end of Clones. Compare that to the Battle of Hoth. The Battle of Hoth has story — impossible odds, damn scary walkers. You see the faces of the people involved, the desperation of the Rebel soldiers holding the line, the grim satisfaction of General Veers in the AT-AT. Compared to that, Geonosis is little more than someone smashing a bunch of toys together. The charm of Han and Leia bantering in Empire versus Anakin creeping on Padme all the way through Clones. The fact that the prequels have so many scenes of people sitting around talking. A measurable percentage of these movies is people sitting around explaining the plot. Near as I can figure, the original trilogy has maybe 4 “sitting and talking” scenes — three of them briefings before battles, plus the scenes in the Death Star in Ep. IV, which don’t really count because Vader gets to Force choke someone, which is ever so exciting, isn’t it? Putting these movies in such close proximity only highlights the weaknesses of the prequels, I’m afraid.
The best part of Machete Order is seeing the creation of Vader in Ep. III, then the opening scene in Ep. VI with Vader marching down the ramp of the Imperial shuttle. It’s striking, chilling, and very cool.
So there we are. Carrie Version: IV, V, III, VI. If you’re an orthodox fan who wants some kind of prequel experience without being driven insane by all the things in the prequels that piss you off, this gives you just enough of the whole Anakin/Padme relationship and formation of the Empire and death of the Jedi order to fill in the backstory of the original trilogy.
April 24, 2013
A friend of mine recently dug up some old Dr. Pepper commercials from the 80′s, and they’re glorious. They take place in horrid post-apocalyptic futures where a cowboy Mad Max hero travels around dispensing the glory of Dr. Pepper. The “Cola Wars” are depicted as having actually destroyed the planet, and all the tropes of the 1980′s post apocalyptic roadtrip movie are there. Via YouTube, here’s “1984,” and here’s “After the Cola Wars.”
This got me thinking, and not just the curmudgeonly, “Wow, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” (A commercial with references to Metropolis? Inconceivable!) Right now, the post-apocalyptic future seems to be experiencing another round of popularity, in fiction and in movies. But it’s quite different from that classic 1980′s blasted dystopian landscape. Look at Wall-E, the frame story in Cloud Atlas, and two of this summer’s films: Oblivion and After Earth. All these depict an abandoned Earth that can only be visited by shining, polished people in glowing white skinsuits, who use supersleek technology and now live off-world. A sterile, utopian future returning to an ugly past. (The backstory to these always seems to tell us that Earth has been destroyed, that a shattered climate required people to move offworld. But with the exception of Wall-E, the Earths depicted actually seem quite lush and overflowing with life. Just not civilization.)
What I can’t decide is if this is a more positive or more pessimistic view of humanity than the 1980′s post-apocalypse. Is it a gesture of optimism to believe that we will develop the capability to move off the planet someday? Or a gesture of pessimism that we are obviously destined to frak things up so badly that not even Mad Max will be able to survive here?
See, the 1980′s post-apocalyptic movies are about survival. No matter what, something will survive, and there will still be heroes. In the current batch of future-apocalypse movies — all we can do is run away.
I think this may be a function of the types of apocalypses serving as the backdrop for the story. The 1980′s apocalypse is almost always nuclear. It’s a one-and-done blasting of the Earth as we know it, with no time to prepare and no second chance. The current round of apocalypses are environmental — a slow decay, creeping climate change. Lots of time to prepare. And apparently, according to these stories, it’s easier to found a space-based human civilization than it is to fix the problems we’ve seen coming for years. I guess that’s what I find so depressing about it. I want to shout at these characters, “You live in space, and you can’t come up with the technology to fix things?“ But Earth isn’t home anymore — it’s the antagonist.
It feels like an abrogation of responsibility. The environmental apocalypse may be decades slower than nuclear war, we may see it coming — but apparently, it’s just as inexorable and catastrophic. It’s also an example of the kind of conservative, narrow-minded thinking that people are always surprised to find in science fiction, which has a reputation of being so forward and future-minded, but which often serves to show us the worst of all possible outcomes, and the worst of all possible human behaviors.
April 10, 2013
When I’m in Albuquerque, I usually stay with my friends at the House of Franck, and we usually watch a few movies while drinking too much. This past weekend, fortified by takeout pizza and leftover shwarma, we had a truly epic movie-watching streak: ten movies, mostly horror, mostly obscure, indie, or just plain bad. Here they are, in order of viewing.
Slither. I don’t know why it took me this long to realize that there’s an entire genre that is “alien/mutant/rapidly reproducing monster thing invades small hick town.” The attraction of the genre is watching rednecks blow shit up with shotguns. I think early exposure the Critters movies may have spoiled me on these forever. At least this one has Nathan Fillion in it.
Nazis at the Center of the Earth. The only reason we watched this is that a guy I went to high school with has a minor part in it. It’s an Asylum Film. I will say no more about it.
An aside: What watching these two movies in proximity did was give us a chance to talk about good cheesy movies versus bad cheesy movies. And it seems to be in the acting and writing. The plot of Slither is the same plot as some 75% of Asylum movies, but it’s so much more watchable because it’s kind of clever and Fillion and Elizabeth Banks are so charming and there’s a whole bunch of great character actors shouldering the thing. Then there’s the Nazi movie which is full of generically pretty 20-somethings who fail to convince me they are serious scientists at an Antarctic research station. Worst. Acting. Ever. Also, I now want to write the story about the survivors five years after their hick town is overrun with slimy aliens.
Cast a Deadly Spell. It’s been twenty years since I’d seen this cult classic and I’m happy to report it’s even better than I remember. All the noir banter is spot-on and the magic just works. 1940′s gangsters duking it out for the Necronomicon, with P.I. Phil Lovecraft caught in the middle. It’s just splendid. And do keep your eyes open for Clancy Brown and Julianne Moore.
John Dies at the End. Also vaguely Lovecraftian. I hesitate to say it’s any good, but it’s certainly interesting. I guess it’s been described as a new Naked Lunch, and that’s about right. Also, it’s so bizarre that Ty said I wouldn’t be able to predict anything that happened. But I did, at least that one thing. I don’t know what that says about me.
Another aside: What watching these two movies did was make me think about how much is actually possible within the genre of urban fantasy if you expand the boundaries to fit things like Lovecraftian noir and interdimensional surrealism. There’s no reason to limit it to Underworld clones. Moving on.
Stingray Sam. This is written and directed by the same guy who did The American Astronaut, which is about my favorite super weird science fiction movie of all time, so I was inclined to like this immensely. It’s about a lounge singer on Mars whose dark past of robbing banks with the Quasar Kid comes back to haunt him. And it’s a musical.
Terminal Force aka Galaxis. This is a very bad space opera thingy starring Brigitte Nielson. It’s also a bad rip off of Terminator with a little bit of Lethal Weapon and He Man thrown in. It confused us mightily, because there’s actually some good acting in here. I fell totally in love with the valiant space leader who single-handedly carried the entire opening scene. Then he got killed. Then Brigitte Nielson goes to Earth looking for a crystal thing, and there are these two cops trailing after her wake of destruction, and it’s like they’re in a totally different movie because they’re actually good and funny and interesting — one of them is played by Cindy Morgan, who was Lori in Tron. But then she gets killed and the movie’s will to live dies with her. Mostly, we were just wondering what kind of favor the filmmakers called in to get Sam Raimi to play random bridge officer dude in the opening scenes.
Interzone. This is a very very bad post-apocalyptic road trip movie, I’m talking bottom of the barrel, probably done by the same folks who did Land of Doom. They kept telling us it was a radiation-drenched post-apocalyptic landscape, but there was lots of lush vegetation and forests and plentiful bananas to eat and stuff, so I mostly just started thinking of it as the Hyperborian Age with motorcycles and machine guns. There is also a famous female body builder playing the villain and the film’s one sex scene is actually just her silhouette posing behind a lighted backdrop. Really, the film was hilarious enough — on purpose, even! — to make it worthwhile. The shirtless dancing boy won me over. So did the following bit of dialog: Guy: “How long have we known each other?” Girl: “Oh, forty-eight hours.” Guy: “It seems like just yesterday.”
Dragon Crusaders. The best Asylum film I’ve ever seen. I know that’s damning with faint praise, but seriously — I would watch this again. I’m not even joking. About ten minutes in we realized this is based on someone’s Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Which means it falls firmly into the category of “a million times better than the actual Dungeons and Dragons movie.” Plus, this introduced me to Cecily Fay, a super badass martial artist and stuntwoman who plays the Halfling ranger. (They didn’t actually call her a Halfling ranger, but that’s totally what her character is.) Also, there’s a whole troop of scruffy knights on Andalusian horses. This movie had my number. (I also totally blew Ty’s mind when I suggested that Cecily Fay and Zoe Bell should do a girl version of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Isn’t there some kind of petition we could sign to make this happen?)
Nirvana. Worst one of the bunch. Ty’s still mad at me for making him watch the whole thing. It’s a cyberpunk movie starring Christopher Lambert that would have looked great in 1986. Too bad it came out in 1997. Lambert is the most unconvincing cyberpunk protagonist imaginable. At one point I said, “Geez, if anybody says ‘black ice’ here I’m taking a drink.” They didn’t, but I took a drink anyway.
The Descent. A bunch of people have been telling me for years to watch this and I finally did. Still not a fan of this kind of horror in general, but one thing I will say about this one: it’s a completely genderless movie. You could swap out all the genders of all the characters and it’s still the same movie. I love that, and wish Hollywood would take notes. I still don’t forgive Neil Marshall for Doomsday, though.
March 29, 2013
This is going to be a lot longer than a movie like this probably deserves. The short version: I liked it, but not as much as the first one. Spoilers ahoy!
So, G.I. Joe the comic has had I think 4-5 publishers over its 30 year history. While each has maintained the essentials of the Hasbro franchise — Joe v. Cobra, characters with colorful code names, outrageous take-over-the-world conspiracies — each publisher has put its own stamp on it in terms of tone and atmosphere. Pretty quickly into this movie I decided to think about it as if the comic had changed publishers. Say, Image instead of Marvel. Like the first movie, this one’s still essentially G.I. Joe, but it’s got a different feel to it. This one cherry picked what continuity it kept — Cobra Commander and Destro are still in custody, but we’re just going to pretend that Hawk and Scarlett and them never existed, m’kay? It’s like they heard what people complained about on the first one — that the Joes were an international squad, the accelerator suits, Baroness’s hideous altered backstory — and just ditched it all in favor of MOAR NINJAS. Fair enough.
The movie had plenty for an old-school fan like me to love: insane gadgets, crazy villains, hyper action, etc. The high-tech prison where CC and Destro are being kept is actually really terrifying — and not just because the warden is played by Walton Goggins, the actor who is now in all movies. They also pretty much just flat out did the famous Silent Issue, a full-length comic with no dialog but lots of ninjas fighting on a mountain side. Pretty cool, no? I earned my own fan cred by ID-ing Firefly five minutes before the movie did. (I started bouncing and my friends had to ask me why I was so excited…)
But there was some not-so-good: There was a plot, and quite a good one I think, but boy howdy did they move through it as fast as they possibly could. I’m torn between admiring the minimalist pacing, and wishing for a little more depth. (Depth in G.I. Joe — I know it’s a lot to ask. But still.) For example, they tried their darndest to shoehorn in the iconic Flint/Lady Jaye romance into exactly one scene. And if they’d bothered to give Flint any characterization at all before that, it might have worked. As it was, it came off as kind of skeevy, with him catching glimpses of her thong panties as she’s changing. Yeah, no, not so much what they were going for I think. Oh, and London gets destroyed. All of it. Kaboom. And it never gets mentioned again. We don’t even get a reaction shot from the British Prime minister, who is sitting in the room when Cobra Commander presses the button. This is just bizarre to me. But I think I can explain it. Which brings me to….
The Channing Tatum thing. So, we all know the movie got delayed for nine months. It was supposed to come out last summer, and the official line is the filmmakers needed more time for the 3D conversion or some crap like that. (I DID NOT see the 3D because conversions SUCK.) The real reason is pretty much an open secret: between filming and release, Tatum became a much bigger star and they decided they needed to capitalize on this, so they brought him back to film additional scenes and make him a bigger part of the movie, to draw in more fans. Whatever. The good news is, this didn’t turn the movie into the unholy mess it could have been, with a shattered plot interrupted with a bunch of random solo Channing Tatum scenes for no apparent reason. The story is pretty much coherent, and Duke still dies in that big explody inciting scene we all saw in the trailers. So what do we see of Tatum in this movie? A bunch of stuff at the beginning with him and Dwayne Johnson, establishing this quite intimate bromance between Duke and Roadblock. Which, you know, okay. Oh, and Roadblock has daughters now (but no Mrs. Roadblock, and who is looking after them when ‘Block is on missions? I don’t think I’m supposed to be asking these questions). Whatever. But when you start thinking about it, it’s really, really easy to see what got added with that extra filming. Some kind of emotional arc, like because we see more of Duke at the beginning we’re supposed to have a greater emotional attachment to the rest of the movie. What they don’t understand is G.I. JOE IS ITS OWN EMOTIONAL REWARD, BITCHES! And I have a feeling that extra 15 minutes of Duke/Roadblock bromance chipped away at whatever depth the rest of the film had. Like a reaction shot from the British Prime Minister, or the entirety of Flint’s characterization.
This is all just my own personal speculation and I don’t know if any of it is true. But I think my hypothesis is born out by the very odd pacing in the film. And the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. There’s a different version of this movie out there, that was supposed to come out last summer, and I have a feeling that that one’s not just a better movie, but a better G.I. Joe movie. Grrrr.
Oh, and it would have killed them to turn one of those “Hooyas!” into a “Yo, Joe!”? I think not.
And now, for no reason at all, I really want to see the Dreadnoks in the next movie. Including Zarana and Zandar. I don’t know why. I think it would be ridiculously awesome.
March 11, 2013
It endeared me at the start with its steampunk aesthetic, 19th century collage-inspired opening credits and a sepia-tone carnival, with all the accompanying gadgets and costumes. Franco is a more convincing smarmy con artist than he is a biomedical researcher. We arrive in Oz and it’s as beautiful and wondrous as I could wish for, and chock-full of nostalgia as the whole thing is a nearly seamless prequel to the old movie. (I haven’t ever read the books, so I’m pretty much free of that baggage of expectation.) There’s a lot to like about this.
But it dragged. And as lovely as it is, we all left the theater feeling unsatisfied. And it’s not just because this is a movie where these powerful women are just waiting around for a guy to come along to save them. My thought on what was wrong with it: I want to rewrite the entire second act, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it. I had to think about it a minute. But I figured it out.
You see, this isn’t just the story of how con-man Oscar became the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It’s also about the creation of the Wicked Witch of the West. The two are parallel and connected. But the movie completely flubs the witch’s story. To the film, it’s not a story, it’s a McGuffin, and it shows.
The second act begins when Oscar arrives in Oz, and ends when he decides to stay and help Glinda’s people go to battle against the evil witch sisters and reclaim the Emerald City. As chance has it, the second act can also be measured by Theodora’s story: the second act begins when she meets Oscar, shortly after his arrive in Oz, and ends when she, transformed into her evil green self, breaks into Glinda’s city to confront Oz and threaten everyone. (I have to admit, I loved it when she leaped on her broom and zoomed away.) This is beautifully structured — as I said, parallel and connected stories. It’s great.
But what happens is the story makes us deeply sympathetic with Theodora — this completely earnest, innocent, wide-eyed (such HUGE eyes!) adorable girl. The “country girl” from the carnival. And in the space of a scene, with little preparation, she goes from that to completely evil. No regret, no chance of redemption. We get tossed a bone — “Oh, this proves you were really evil all along! You remember your temper and that fireball, right? Haha!” But I’m not buying it. Because Theodora’s still being manipulated by the people around her. She’s still naive. Basically, she’s being punished for being naive, not for anything she’s actually done. Which makes her ultimate fate — being murdered by a girl in a blue gingham dress in forty years — rather unsettling. Because we haven’t actually had a good reason to stop being sympathetic toward Theodora. The result is we all left the movie feeling uncomfortable, and vaguely thinking that the heroes are actually all jerks.
A couple of fixes: Theodora’s transformation needed to be set up. If she really was “evil all along deep inside,” set it up. This only needs a couple of lines. Oscar is flopping around in the pond, and he asks her for help getting out — and she says, “Oh, no, I can’t. I’m scared of water.” A tiny bit of foreshadowing that will put a little bug in your audience’s minds that something isn’t right here. That temper her sister comments on, that gets exactly one demonstration — we need to see that when Theodora and Oscar are on the yellow brick road. Oscar needs to be looking at her and thinking, maybe she isn’t so innocent after all. We the audience need to look at her and think, Yeah, she’s up to something, she’s kind of dark. And then Theodora needs to decide to be evil, instead of getting tricked into it.
And this is what happens when you treat significant secondary characters like plot devices rather than fully-realized characters. Especially a character as well-known and iconic as the Wicked Witch of the West. (I see a lot of people blaming Mila Kunis, suggesting she was miscast. But I would blame the writing.)
And that’s how I’d fix the movie. Kind of along those lines — see this article on Jezebel on how making an Oz movie with a male protagonist is a problematic issue from the get-go.
Now I’ve decided I really want to see Tin Man again. I know a lot of people hate it, but I really loved its weirdness and mythology. And Neal McDonough is pretty much my favorite actor who nobody knows about.
Also, I really want to see Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams in a Lethal Weapon-style buddy cop movie. That would rock.
March 4, 2013
I decided not to go see Jack the Giant Slayer. It seems like I would want to — a big action special effects extravaganza based on a fairy tale, starring the guy from Warm Bodies, plus stealth Ewan McGregor, what’s not to love? There was a time when big special effects were enough to get me into the theater. That time was before Transformers 2. Nothing in the previews to this one interests me. Sure the special effects look nice, but story-wise it’s all stuff I’ve seen before. And then there’s this: according to the previews and IMDB, there’s exactly one named woman character. Now, I’m not keeping quotas or demanding that every movie comply with the Bechdel Test. I mean, I love Master and Commander and that’s got ZERO named women characters. But when I watch the previews for Jack, see that the one woman character is a plucky fighter princess type who nevertheless seems to need to be rescued, I know what the story is without even seeing the movie. Humble Jack will have adventures, there will be lots of semi-amusing sight gags and cute jokes, there will be battles, he will win the heart of the beautiful princess, and the movie will end with them kissing while the music swells, and the bad guys do something to set them up for a sequel. I have seen this movie. The idea of seeing it again, even with great special effects, even with Bryan Singer directing, just makes me tired.
Standard storytelling tropes don’t usually immediately turn me off on a movie this hard. John Carter is also clearly about a plucky fighter princess type getting rescued. But it also had Mars. And it also had Sola, and airships, and the previews made me think, “Wow!” That’s all I want, to get me to see a movie. To not be bored with the previews, for crying out loud. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Jack is a fine, fine movie that I would enjoy immensely. You know what will tell me that I’m wrong? Word of mouth. I’m still waiting…
You know what would have gotten me to see Jack? If it was Jackie the Giant the Slayer.
(I have now heard back from some friends who saw Jack. Their verdict: “It was better than we expected, but it still would have driven you crazy.” And I think, “My God, when did “better than we expected” become the best thing we can say about movies?)