Saturday, January 23, 2016
Monday, April 27, 2015
Thursday, January 15, 2015
X-Men Days of Future Past
Friday, May 23, 2014
Wow, another couple of years between posts. Well, there you go. I've been thinking lately of doing this as a video blog because.. why not? The reason for making anything and, it seems, the reason for making the latest X-Men movie. Where to start with this one? There's a certain laziness when it comes to this movie. I say laziness because the issues I had could have easily been fixed by a moment's research online. Oddities like the character Quicksilver (who is never mentioned by name, other than 'Peter,' though I think his name in the comics is Pietro) wearing mini-headphones like those of a Walkman which wouldn't be invented until the 80s. Why is this a problem? Because the greater part of the movie takes place in 1973. The technology is a definite problem because on one hand, we have Cerebro, a computer which not only has retinal scanning and recognition abilities, it also has a synthesized voice and allows Charles Xavier the ability to tap into any mind on the planet. On the other hand, we have an entire room filled with reel-to-reel tape recorders, tvs and other transistorized electronics that have to take the place of the VCR. One of the film's ostensible villains has fingerprint scanning tech which is only now becoming widely used or available, yet the Pentagon uses only metal detectors and CCTV. The summer of 1973 was nearly the height of the Watergate scandal which is only visually alluded to by showing a tape recorder in the oval office even though by then it was widely known what was going on. The portrayal of Nixon shows no signs of nervousness or tension under which he must have been suffering by this point and instead shows a Nixon totally in control and dealing with things from a position of strength. Even Quicksilver's costume looked far more at home in the 80s than anywhere else (except his wig which belonged back in its box). The design and tech of the Sentinels, the giant robots that are the crux of the whole movie looked and acted far too advanced for the decade as well. It's also really hard to believe that such things were already being built and yet the government seemed to have no idea that they had been. In short, there was no part of this movie that felt like it was taking place in the 70s. At best, we see some old cars and the occasional rotary dial phone. Otherwise, none of this part of the movie makes much sense. And that's just the beginning. At the Movie Wrench, I try to offer 'solutions' to what I see are problems, and in this case, I have to say that research was very very necessary to make this feel like the era it was supposed to depict. And this is just the beginning.
Then there are the characters. There are so many mutants here that it's hard to keep them straight. Even though I read the X-Men and other related titles, some characters slipped by without me even realizing who they are. Sunspot of the New Mutants was only named in the credits. I'm betting a lot of the audience was wondering what the Human Torch was doing with the X-Men. Bishop is a character I vaguely remember but here, all we can guess is that he absorbs energy of various kinds and does something with it. There's a young woman who opens up teleportation gates, but it doesn't seem to be either Kitty Pryde or Nightcrawler. When these characters all die (sort of) we're supposed to care, but we know nothing about them. Even Quicksilver, who has a larger part, is there and gone. We don't know where he goes nor do we care. Why should we? This movie isn't about characters, it's really about the plot. I think that what I'd recommend here is that the number of characters was pared down to those that the audience has seen and recognizes and that more of the 'future' is shown. We're -told- that things are bad for the mutants, that this future and bleak, and we see one city that looks pretty trashed, but there's nothing seen of the rest of the world, and how they're dealing with this, what life is like. There's a lot of spoken monologue, voiceover telling us what happens and comes just short of telling us that what we're seeing is bad and we should care about it. The writing here isn't particularly well done and we're not given enough time to really come to grips with this and to judge for ourselves. There's a decent fight scene here but it's really just there to explain the main Maguffin of the whole movie, which is the source of the biggest problem in the whole thing; time travel. I would rather have seen more of this future world, both sides of it, felt it, experienced it. Long moments of voice over are a sure sign that we're missing out and that, more likely than not, something was poorly written. It's the first rule of most writing; show don't tell.
And then there's the giant elephant in the corner of the room that we're really really not supposed to think about at all. Time travel. Having any kind of travel through time is always asking for trouble. The likelihood of a paradox, or two events that contradict each other, is huge and generally not well dealt with. Some stories weave this better than others. Personal favorites include, "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," "Back to the Future," and Stephen King's novel, "11/22/63." Bill and Ted is a comedy, sure but those two characters were the only ones I've ever seen that found a way out of current problems by remembering to go back in time -in their future- to help themselves get past obstacles. They get around the whole paradox problem mostly because we're never meant to take their whole movie seriously. Because of this, the audience never has reason to look too closely, or wonder if this whole premise makes sense. None of it does and that's fine. "Back to the Future" deals with paradox with the inclusion of the fading photos. While this really doesn't make sense, the idea of messing up one's own parent's past is reason enough to make sure things go well. Also, with both of these examples, there is a very important aspect that's missing from the X-Men; the contrivance for getting the time traveller back in time -goes with them-. This is an important point which I'll address in a moment. In King's novel, paradox is dealt with by having the main character go to places that have nothing to do with his own past. He's there to prevent the Kennedy assassination. King introduces a very interesting twist to his version of time travel, and that is that history actively resists change. How does it do this? By having obstacles place their way in the path of the hero every time he tries to make major changes. A flat tire, a blown circuit, a fire, any of these things which in and of themselves are minor and would not majorly affect the past fall into place to deflect the hero's chances of succeeding. The reason or 'will' behind these chance occurrences is never revealed and isn't really important. But it does lead to a choice that has to be made when dealing with time travel that the X-Men doesn't seem to have made, and that is the idea that time is either mutable or immutable. King's novel leans towards the latter, but not entirely so. Most time travel leans towards the former, which makes sense as if there is not mutability in the past, there's no story.
In the X-Men, Wolverine's consciousness is sent back to his younger self to prevent one event that is seen as the cause of the whole war on mutants and the concentration camp future as briefly depicted in the movie. There is a huge huge problem with this which doesn't bear much inspection. If Wolverine arrives back in 1973, he is either successful or unsuccessful in his mission. If he is unsuccessful, and we have to assume that he has 'one chance,' and there is only 'one event' that can be changed that will have this chain-reaction effect, then the folks in the future know it -as soon as he arrives in the past.- Because otherwise, the future, as we've seen it, as these characters know it -never happens.- Fifty years of history don't need 'time' to catch up. It makes no sense for us to watch the 'progress' from the future as it either happens or it doesn't. So the whole approaching attack by the Sentinels is pointless. Because if they're coming, it means that Wolverine failed. Period.
If he IS successful, then as soon as he prevents whatever it is that cements the future we've seen from happening, all knowledge of that future goes away -because it will never happen.- No one will send Wolverine back in time because there will be no reason to. At best, the characters will have to assume that he had a momentary bit of craziness, or precognition but the war on the mutants will not happen, or won't happen in the way that we've seen it happen. Regardless, it goes away and Wolverine was not sent back. If this is the case, and it has to be, then when he wakes up and it is again either 'present day,' or 2023 (we're never sure), there's no reason for him to be surprised to see Jean Grey or Cyclops alive. There's no reason for his memory to have blanked between 1973 and whatever year this is. He -should- wake up and remember those intervening years as they happened, however that was. The future has been erased, not remembered because -it doesn't happen.- This is very messy and hard for the audience to deal with, if they think about it at all. And, because of the way the movie is structured, we have no way of knowing if this series of events will be better than what we saw at the beginning of the movie or not. We assume so, but really, there's no reason for us to do so. All we know is that things won't happen exactly as they did. So really, the movie wants it both ways; that Wolverine was in the future we saw and he wasn't.
This is really really hard to fix. At the very least, I think it would have been better to point out that whoever takes the trip back in time will be making a one-way journey. There can be no coming back unless everything goes to hell and the traveler is unsuccessful. That's the heroic crux of the movie, or could be. It might also have worked that the closer Wolverine got to success, the more his memories start to fade, and the more his future consciousness is lost. In other words, the better he's doing, the less he knows. Failure would bring clarity, success would bring cloudiness and doubt. I don't think this would have been harder to grasp than what was done and would have made it, I think, a more interesting movie. Time travel is complicated at its best, and this was not its best. At the very least, it made no sense to send Wolverine back to a point so close to when the one and only event at the crux of time is going to occur. Why not give him months? Since it won't matter about the so-called upcoming attack from the Sentinels, he can take as long as he wants this way, and have a much greater chance of success. Many time travel stories have this same problem, where someone wants to go back and make some sort of change and yet the traveler only gives him or herself moments before to make that change. King's novel is the only one that doesn't fall into this trap, and most of the novel takes place in the -years- that must be lived through before the Kennedy assassination will take place.
As I mentioned earlier, this movie isn't about characters, it's about the plot. The time travel, and the -event- are the stars and the characters just dance around these two things while explosions go off and people we know nothing about nor care about die. And that's a shame. We -need- to care about them or the rest is just a jumble of vaguely connected images, lame jokes and cameos. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is a movie made from precariously balanced toothpicks. Poke even one of them just a little and the whole thing falls apart. And that's time travel. I would honestly remove more than half the characters here, leaving only those we know and have some history with. I'd show them more dealing with this future, what they have to do to survive, the ones that have given up hope. It would make a better contrast to the 1973 portion and perhaps make the audience long for that time period as well (as long as it was deftly depicted and not so sloppily shown). I might even suggest splitting the movie in half, putting that much effort into showing us the reasons why this future is so bad. Let us see the suffering, and let us see the humans that live outside the fence. Maybe it's not so great for them either. Maybe Trask is a lot more than a scientist in this future; maybe he's in a ruling position. Because right now, all we know is he hates mutants, because he tells us he does (well, he tells us he admires them and doesn't want to be lost in the inevitable shuffle of homo sapiens vs. homo superior). We could easily see him as misguided. Since his character is so undeveloped, mostly what we do is look at him and try our best not to think of Tyrion Lannister because he is a far more interesting person to watch.
Even if my solutions don't satisfy everyone, they're an attempt, which is how I try and make my 'reviews' different from others. For me, this movie felt like a first draft, rushed and not well put together. Likely it will make a good deal of money and few will think to question the storytelling. I go to the movies because I want to fall into someone else's world for awhile, and put my own aside. If details get in the way of that, to me, the movie fails. There should be a flow, not the jerky motion of a decrepit roller coaster being yanked up its first hill. And that's what this is about. Thank you, fan.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
It's been over two years since I made a post to this blog. To be fair, few of the films I've seen in that time made me feel that they could be fixed with simple rewrites. So many American (or generally western) films feel like the people making them have even the barest sense of how to tell a story. Plots are made over-complicated, subplots which are utterly unnecessary are added (the most common being the tacked on "love story," a plague which pervades the medium) and character motivations expounded upon which even on the surface seem silly and shallow.
Which brings us to, "The Hobbit." Far simpler than its successor, "The Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit" is by comparison both a simpler and less mature story. And by the latter I mean that it was written in a style that felt more meant for children than did its sequel. And that's fine. I've loved the book for many years and never really minded the contrast between the two tales. Because of this, "The Hobbit" should have been a relatively simple film to make. It should easily have fit into a single film, even if a long one. And, most of all, it should have been a study in character development for its titular hero. Instead what we get is a study in Thorin Oakenshield and a very mixed bag of a script. (Seriously, was it necessary to explain Thorin's last name and in so clumsy a way?)
The simplest way to 'fix' this movie, to me is to adhere more to the source material. The characters are simple, easy to understand and don't need acres of back story depicted on the screen. The story is a fish out of water one, one of finding one's strength in times of diversity and of worth being beneath the surface. Instead we get all sorts of underlying motivation for the dwarves' wanting to retake their homeland, a really unnecessary, tacked on battle between Thorin and some orc named Azog (who was originally a goblin and was slain not by Thorin but by Dain in Moria a long time before the story of Bilbo) and, because it was deemed necessary, the beginning of the sub-plot which will 'lead' to the major arc for the "Lord of the Rings." True, the necromancer battle was mentioned in "The Hobbit..." in passing. It's barely a couple of sentences. Instead, we are denied any sense of the elves in this movie and instead are shown a meeting of the supposed highest folk of Middle Earth. And a bit of a love interest is suggested between Gandalf and Galadriel.
There is so much time spent on all these other plots that, halfway through the movie, I wondered at the director even keeping the title the same. This has become something other than Bilbo's tale. It's been made into something bigger, bloated. There are stunts thrown in that in and of themselves are epic beyond the entire story and as such, utterly unbelievable. Humor is injected at the oddest of times, usually during battle scenes and as such, the emotional thread of the movie is often disjointed and off. Bilbo, too is already taken out of character and made into a warrior in one scene near the end of the film which derails any struggle he is supposed to have with courage later on. Bilbo was never meant to be a warrior. His one real attempt comes at the latter part of the book, in the Battle of Five Armies and he barely lasts a paragraph because that's not for what he was meant. It's sad to think that his worth is already being weighed in the blood he lets.
I would see the subplot with Azog utterly removed. I would also delete the meeting, planning and depiction of the "destruction" of the necromancer. This story is at its best when dealing with its central character and what it means to be taken out of one's comfortable life and confront true need, danger and change head on. The film as it stands does not have one, continuous, emotional thread, and the one that's strongest isn't that of the main character. If his is the "Unexpected Journey," then let us feel that, let us feel his change, his fear, his eventual bravery that's hinted at and which would not have seen the light of day if not for his adventure. Don't make this a war story of the dwarves. Thin out the things that detract from the main premise, keep us on track and, quite honestly, stick more closely to the book. It's been in print for 75 years, read for 75 years and loved for 75 years for a reason. Tolkien knew how to write a story.
There are two more movies to come. I'm guessing that there will be a good chunk of the third film that takes place between "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," as I can't see how the original book's plot can be stretched that thin. Perhaps all of this will tie together to make a cohesive film. So far, with the evidence I've seen, I highly doubt it.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
There are still a few things I would choose to do to streamline this movie and give it some kind of flow. As it stands now, it smashes into rocks, so to speak, seeming to be more a collection of details than something resembling a cohesive whole.
When one is given a history lesson as the start of a film, one knows that one is in store for some choppy storytelling. I would suggest that the first thing that happens is that the monologue at the beginning of the film simply be replaced with the ‘final’ battle between Merlin, Morgana and the others. The audience isn’t so stupid that they will be unable to figure out everyone’s place and character. As the old English professor’s addage goes, "show, don’t tell."
Next thing I would do is to totally chop off the next part of the film which depicts our hero, David at ten years of age. We don’t need this. Yes, it sets up his fixation on the Becky character but it takes up time we don’t need to spend. There is no training here, nothing is really lost. All this section of the film does is make us wait for the next bit. This time would be far better used for character development later on so that we might have a chance of caring about these people. Right now, we really don’t. And as all of the characters are clear archetypes, we don’t need to know WHY David might be a nerd. It’s enough that he is. We get it. Move along.
I could also make an argument here for removing the Becky character all together. Here’s the thing; the focus of the film should either be that of the apprentice learning from the master to overcome evil OR it should be the love story between Becky and David (reflected through that of Balthazar and what’s her name). As is often the case when the love story isn’t the focus of the story, this one feels tacked on and is barely explored. Again, it wastes screen time that could easily be devoted to something more interesting. Also, there is nothing here that Becky does that couldn’t be accomplished by David’s best friend and roommate. Since all she really accomplishes is to kick a satellite antenna out of the way, I can’t say her part is particularly deep. Cutting her out, I’m sure would be unpopular on the executive level as it would be seen as removing the interest for a part of the potential audience. Instead, since there is the feeling that a love story HAS to be a part of things, we get a watered down one thrown in with yet another un-fleshed out character. Cut her out. Don’t need her. Or make her and David’s relationship the center of the story and rewrite.
David’s progress seems amazingly fast, especially considering the size of the book he’s supposed to learn from. All the while, we’re told that there is going to be a moment when he gets over himself, gets some confidence and learns to cast magic without the use of a ring. Ok. So, telling us this over and over only makes that moment, when it comes, less exciting. All that time wasted on the tacked on love story could instead have been used to show David’s training, making it seem like something he actually had to work at instead of what appeared to be a minor annoyance in the way of him getting a date.
Magic is tough stuff to deal with in movies. For the audience to feel any kind of conflict is actually present, it should have some kind of internal logic, should have some kind of cost and most of all, should not look as if anyone who can wield it should be running foreign countries. There is nothing subtle about magical spells in this movie at all, with the one exception of David and Balthazar disguised as cops at the end of the situation in Chinatown. Calm it down, way down. Make it hard to do. Make BIG things even harder to do. Let us know that there’s a cost of some kind. Show us why these people aren’t running things or sitting on mounds of stolen treasure or puppet-stringing presidents and kings.
There is NO motivation for Morgana at all. She’s going to escape and destroy the world. Why? What does she get out of it? All we know is that she’s “EVIL,” and I suppose she is. It’s hard to be afraid of her, or really worry about her at all when the space she occupies is about as large as that of a chess piece. Is she crazy? Does destroying the world do something for her? Is she appeasing a demon? Does she get power? Is she Queen of all that is Evil? No idea. As such, we don’t care and never worry that she will actually succeed. Again, some of the time wasted on the love story could have been used to define her. I think there should be a balance between a protagonist and its opposite, that characters with equal definition will make for a better conflict. Even if the screen time isn’t strictly equal, something a lot more close than exists here would help a great deal.
That’s probably more than this movie deserves. I saw it last night, it was still fresh in my mind and I haven’t posted in awhile. It seems to me that more time and effort spent on story would also equate to less money wasted on trying to patch together a lousy story and would also likely equal more profits in the end. I’m speaking from the outside here, but am I wrong?
Sunday, May 30, 2010
So “Prince of Persia.”
Problem: The movie’s crux, the magical doohickey, the Maguffin is too damned complicated, and unnecessarily so. Sands of time can either do everything or nothing and we’re not really sure which. “Don’t do this,” or “If this happens,” and of course, “But only I can stick the blade in the stone which will save the world...” Blah blah blah. Taking a simple idea and watering it down with complexities disengages the audience, brings about disbelief and really is not necessary.
Solution: The dagger should only be able to do one thing; reverse time in short bursts. There should be no grand story about gods, destruction of the earth, great sandstorms that might come again and all that unnecessary crap. The dagger and sands should be two separate components of one idea; Two ‘chosen’ people unite to undo some of the world’s wrongs. One, a brother, wields the dagger with which he can right some of those wrongs. The sister is the one capable of creating the sands that the dagger uses. These abilities are passed down through the ages, taught mother to daughter, etc. This simplifies a hell of a lot and helps the conflict between Prince Dastan and Princess what’s her name; they will HAVE to work together to overcome evil, using the dagger, just as has been foretold, etc. Dastan’s killing of the brother in the opening of the film will make the coming together of the two more difficult and stronger once it happens. The movie can be more about Dastan trying to prove himself to her and to himself and less about all this mystical mucking about.
Problem: There is opportunity for closure in the film and that potential is unfulfilled. The King tells Dastan a story of why he was chosen from the streets when he was a boy, that the King saw what was a ‘good’ boy who had potential to be a ‘great’ man, and that by not stopping the attack on the holy city, he failed in that. It’s a well placed bit of foreshadowing (for a simple hero story) and it’s left only half finished in the end for a supposedly better, love-filled ending.
Solution: The solution is simply to have Dastan go back in time and convince his brother that the city should not be attacked before it happens, to stand up to both older brothers and the evil uncle the way his father said he should have in the first place. Perhaps a combination of the scene where Dastan stabs himself with the dagger, and that where he’s screaming to be heard on the steps of the conquered city could be done in the tents before the battle. There would be nice visual contrast of his facing this darkest hour before the dawn, literally as the army poised for battle could actually march forward as friends in daylight. Here, the movie would have a more bittersweet and stronger ending as Dastan would see the woman he loved and know that she would never be his as the circumstances for her to come to know him would never happen (at least not in this film). A tragic hero is a stronger hero than one who gets everything in the end, and a more memorable one. This also leads to the next issue.
Problem: The movie, which obviously wants to be the beginning of a franchise (not likely) does not end in such a way as to suggest that a continuation would be either needed or wanted. We see the hero get the girl, the evil in the royal family has been purged. I’m betting most filmgoers walked away from this thinking the story was over, the end, what’s next on the marquee? The same could be said for some other successful franchises (“Star Wars,” for example) but why not leave the audience wanting more? Isn’t that the best way to get them to come back?
Solution: Connected to the change in plot above, Dastan does not get the girl, misses out on love (at least for now) and is still third in line for the throne. And there is still the enemy of the empire on the horizon (pretty much forgotten about in the movie). In other words, things are not all tied up neatly at the end. There is tragedy in Dastan’s life, a scar that we, the audience knows is the first stone of a road he has started to travel. This part of the story would have an ending but we’d also expect there to be more.
Problem: There’s just too much going on that gets in the way of the main story. Even without the complications of the dagger and the sands, there’s the whole subplot mess with Alfred Molina and his anti-tax stance (is that meant as some kind of political message?). The knife-thrower character is obviously just there to be thrown away later and is only given a flicker of respect. The whole cast of characters lack motivation, are wishy washy and are obviously just filler.
Solution: Remove importance of the Molina character and replace it with the knife-thrower. Have Dastan save his life thus transferring the life-debt from Molina to Dastan. Or, perhaps, make the whole incident with the ostrich camp go away. It’s not essential to the plot. It’s the Mos Eisley scene but goes on too long and comes back to haunt us. Molina is meant to be funny, but we don’t need funny and he’s not that comical (good actor, bad role). It’s nice that the knife-thrower sacrifices himself for the ‘greater good’ later on, but we know it’s going to happen, we know when and we know how. There are no surprises. Filler is understandable, yet it can still be better thought out and can be used to support the story as opposed to just slow it down.
Problem: The Hassansins are ultimately just silly.
Solution: If a character is meant to be above and beyond, let them be above and beyond and do not water them down. The Hassansins are shown to be spooky, ridiculously skilled and even possibly magical. Yet when they catch up to the whole crew in the mountain village, even the riff raff Molina is traveling with manages to kill some of them off. We no longer take them seriously or expect them to be any real obstacle. Have fewer of these Hassansins, or even make it just the one. Since there is no reason, with the plot adjustments above, to even have the scene in the village, simply have the Hassansin dog the tracks of the hero all the way through. Perhaps near the end of the film, it can be he who kills the princess, making him both more evil seeming as well as more competent. It would also reinforce the need of Dastan to reverse the whole series of events as well as deepen his regret when he realizes they will never be together.
Problem: British Accents, white actors.
Solution: With the amount of money being spent on a film like this, there is no chance that the leading role would go to anyone but a big name Hollywood star. While I think the audience would accept an Arabic actor if the story were that well done and compelling, Hollywood would never trust us to spend our money on an unknown. So be it. But. Why is it, why oh why is it that every foreign nation depicted in an American film has to have an accent from the UK? If the actors have to be voice coached, why not use the accent that’s actually geographically correct? This is not only insulting to the moviegoing public but to the cultures that are depicted. Easy solution; use the proper accents. Even better, hire actors from the proper countries as well.
Problem: American directors cannot film action scenes. Every fight is heavily planned and rehearsed and yet when it comes time to film these scenes, a camera is seemingly strapped to a vulture and the corresponding footage is sewn together with yarn. The camera jerks around so much, we have no idea who’s hitting who, where we are or what’s going on. There’s no sense of place at all. It’s a constant problem in American action films.
Solution: Either watch some Hong Kong action films and see how striking action should be captured or just hire cinematographers from Hong Kong to shoot these scenes. I use Hong Kong as an example as I have seen quite a few of the action films from there and rarely do I have trouble telling who is who, where they are, or what just happened. The camera moves far less and the sense of place is always clear. There are exceptions in American cinema but it seems the big budget action movies tend to suffer from this far too much. Even a simple fist fight looks like it was shot by a one legged roller skater. Enough!
Likely that even with major changes like those above, there would need to be a lot of ‘sanding’ done to make this movie flow smoothly, and there is good reason to question whether or not it’s worth doing. Thing is, as is often the case, this could be done at the writing stage and as such not be all that expensive to do or difficult. It costs just as much to film a well thought, tightly written plot as it does a sloppy one.