More on Heroes and Protagonists

I’ve begun to notice how to read people’s eyes.

For example, the eyes of Heath Ledger and Robin Williams have a bipolar wear-your-emotions-on-your sleeve feel. They also have the look of someone who’s always thinking, more specifically, looking the abyss of fear and despair. They are able to express on camera their own inner depression.

But when they’re playing happy, it’s usually overly happy and desperately happy, like they’re at their own monster’s ball (a party thrown by British corrections officers for a death row inmate the night before his execution). A happiness which they expect might be the last time they’re happy ever. A nostalgic happiness that recognizes the beauty of the moment, but worries that they’ll never see a moment as wonderful ever again.

There seems to be a signature look in depressed people’s eyes. A vacancy that’s looking at the loss in any situation.

On the other side. There are also winner’s eyes. Those of Tom Cruise, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. When you see Tom or Arnold smile, they’re genuine smiles of: “I’m the best and can conquer anything.” Contrasted to Heath’s or Robin’s, their smiles and comedic performances are usually overly animated and desperate. Arnold’s best comedy comes from the clash of context that comes from a man’s man (and winner) who tries to win at the most unexpected contexts. Like winning in kindergarten, or trying to look smart. It’s their arrogance and obliviousness to their weaknesses (coupled with their overwhelming and admirable confidence) that draws out the absurdity in situations.

 

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Wonder Woman

From Facebook Post (June 4):

I don’t know what to say about Wonder Woman that hasn’t already been said but I’ll try: It made me cry. Wonder Woman gives you the feels the way many modern Pixar films try to do. It did it with a compelling story structure and hopeful idealism. It’s a film that I think will empower a generation of girls to become leaders of the free world. It’s a morality drama and thriller with action and comedy added to support the story. It’s extremely well written, it’s well directed, and does exactly what it set out to do.

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10 Filmmaking Lessons from Armageddon

20160409_190218_smallIf one were to define the word “crowdpleaser” it would undoubtedly be a link to Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer’s Armageddon. It is the pinnacle of collaboration. With nearly a dozen writers (screenplay by, story by, and ghost writers/polishers), a huge ensemble of actors, a picture perfect cinematographer, a war horse director, a solid musical score, and a culturally sensational soundtrack (both oldies and the classic original song by Aerosmith), this film fires on all cylinders. It’s a visceral, emotional, and auditory roller coaster that always gives you the feels. From laugh out loud jokes, edge of your seat suspense, tear jerking finales, to triumphant nostalgia, this film has it all in all the right ratios and for all the right durations. In the spirit of its heroes, it was All Go, No Quit fun.

Jonathan Hensliegh

  1. Laugh out loud moments. The plethora of characters added comedic quips to the scenarios.
  2. The crew were comedic heroes, Bruce Willis and the NASA scientists were the proper action heroes. Completely capable. The Rock: Nick Cage is comedic hero, Sean Connery was proper action hero. Bad Boys: Martin Lawrence was comedic hero, Will Smith was proper action hero.
  3. Tragedy was not basked in. Problems were presented and solutions were found. People died, we acknowledged their death, and then moved forward, like heroes. If we weren’t living our lives to the fullest, then what did our friends die for? Compare to Star Wars 7, how the film ended on a downer.
  4. Celebrations: The crowd cheered when our heroes cheered. Ben Affleck, Peter Stormare, and Michael Duncan landing and cheering was an applause moment. When Bruce Willis informs the government, Gen. Kimsey, that they have a problem because they have a hole to drill, and the NASA scientists cheer, we cheered. This came after one of the most intense scenes in cinema. Which included so many laughs without losing tension (Sir, the override; it’s been overridden. What are you doing with a gun in space? Okay, what did I miss?).
  5. Big egos. The movie was ultra-machismo and comedy came from one upping each other or doing emotional juvenile teasing or yelling. “No, Liev, I don’t know anything. This button? I don’t know what it does? All I know is that there’s a dot and I’m trying to get us there.” “You’ll be heroes, just like me….Finally, I’m a real hero!”

 

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Loglines for Puns and for Real

Logline Limbo (https://twitter.com/loglinelimbo) was created a while back to inspire us to keep making log lines – for bad, bad puns.  “When Hollywood says no, we fast track it into production with one mantra on our minds: How low can we go?”

We did pretty well for about a month and a half:

Logline Puns

When Satan releases Damien on the church, it’s up to Father Michael to slay the demon. ““. Coming Soon.

Alone, they can be lethal. Get them together and they can take down countries. ““. Coming Soon.

A wordsmith’s life changes when the fruit industry is caught moving cocaine. “: The Movie.”

Holmes is hot on the trail of a theoretical physicist who kills using a 12-gage wire and a multidimensional formula : The Movie

Parents seek when a statistician gives thirty babies a plastic bag to play with. “#RiskOfSuffocation“. Coming Soon.

is a Nascar driver who must control his demons to win the race and the girl: “Need 4 Speed 2: Cruise Control” aka

Last February, “” led a Journey there. This October, will be “ 2: The Mysterious Island”.

And although I didn’t post it until recently, I made it around the same time:

Only one secret agent can stop an arms maker with low tolerance and military precision. #.007

But while the jokes stopped flowing, good ideas didn’t.  In the mean time, we’ve been contemplating lots of movie ideas, but there is a difference between an idea and a plot.  Between a plot and a story.  Between story and a scene.  Between a scene and a movie. How does one maintain a thread through all of it?  One argument is to write to your log line.  http://zigzorg.com/?p=1033

To that end, I wanted to write a few quick log lines for a handful of ideas that have been mulling about in my/our head.  They are by no means polished, but a start and a reminder of the catalog of stories we’d like to pursue:

Loglines for Good Ideas

Teal and Orange – When an average Joe discovers the colors in his world have been reduced to teal and orange, Joe has to confront this next door neighbor who is responsible for this, with the help of an independent thinker down the hall.  (Short movie idea)

World Champions – A group of NFL rejects find redemption when they’re recruited by a patriotic, albeit eccentric entrepreneur who has big plans for them in the FIFA World Cup.

Asterisk – When a billionaire plans to destroy the middle east with a shower of untraceable asteroids, one secret agent employs the help of the billionaire’s scorned ex-business partner who used to sell asteroid insurance.

Jurassic Park #? – A boy and his pet pygmy dinosaur are rejected in the community until they save the town from a derailed train carrying full-size dinosaurs sabotaged by dino-rights radicals.

Galaxy Quest 2 – When its discovered that the writers of the show can imagine things into existence, they are taken captive by a new alien threat, and the cast of Galaxy Quest must pull together to free the captives and save the universe.

The Rock 2 – Goodspeed must use the secrets he learned from the microfilm when he is released from prison to stop a group of radicals who took control of the Smithsonian archives.

Those on the List – When everyone on a mysterious list of names starts killing each other, they realize that one of them is a Shapeshifter.

Identity Crisis – An insecure scientist finally discovers the magic formula that lets him transform at will into anyone he dreams up, but when he tries to use it to enhance his larger-than-life girlfriend, she uses it to humiliate him by becoming him.

Beauty is on the Outside – When a graduate student unlocks the secret of shapeshifting, he learns that true love is more important than true beauty.

Manifestation – Hobbs has a plan of his own when he’s hired to manifest a living human being in the real world from a fabricated memory in the dream world.

Under the Bridge – David Willoughby takes the side of conspiracy theorists deliberately despite the scientific evidence he presents to refute them – to the point of absurdity.  (web-series idea)

… MORE TO COME…

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Movie Inspiration Collage

Collage-Movies-5-50p

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Star Wars (6 Episode Marathon) Review

 

Spoilers!  If you haven’t seen any of the movies, there may be spoilers in here.

Here goes:  It started with “Hey, bro, what do you say to watching Episode 6 this Saturday… with a brand new surround sound system?”  When I checked in the morning it had become “Join us in watching the Complete Star Wars saga, episodes 1 through 6 – in THAT order.”  It had already been pointed out to me that this marathon would be longer than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy marathon – even with the extended cuts – but I thought if Shawn’s good for it, then I am too!  (There’s no way I’d agree to the LOTR extended cut marathon).

Going into the films, these were my favorite Star Wars flicks in order:

Episodes 4, 6, 1, 3, 5, 2.

Note how of the original trilogy, episode 5 was dead last.  Yes.  Dead last.  I’ll tell you why.

Nothing happens in Episode 5.

Nothing memorable that is.

I’ve seen Episode 4, 6, and 1 at least a dozen times each.  After re-watching Episodes 2 and 3 a few years ago, I realized how much fun Episode 3 was, and how little I hated Anakin in it.  I still thought Episode 2 was really lacking, possibly because I hated the whiny little bitch Anakin – even though I understood what George Lucas was saying with that character choice.   Plus, I was shocked how Padme could spend an entire movie in gorgeous outfits, and I barely remembered it – probably because the sexiest outfit (the white skin-tight one) was in the least motivated action piece of the series.

So when I finished Episode 2 & 3 a few years ago, I couldn’t help but compare it to Episode 5.  In fact, I could barely remember Episode 5.  I started to think back.  What happened?  Darth Vader tells Luke he’s his father.  Um…. Yoda’s in it.  Um… Cloud City…..  Oh, and Hoth.

So I rewatched Episode 5, too.  And I was shocked to find that was I bored to hell through most of it.  Then it ended.  That’s what shocked me.  Luke is hanging from an antenna;  he’s saved by the crew who turns back because Leia can sense Luke’s peril, and saves him.  Then they’re looking out at the window for some reason (and I forget where), and it cuts to credits.  — Worst ending ever!!!

I was so shocked by that crappy ending I had to call my brother and compare it to Lords of the Rings – Fellowship of the Rings, which just… you know, ended.  Nobody had told me there was going to be two other 3 hour movies in the LOTR series, so when Sam and Frodo finally get to see the eye of Mordor, I’m thinking “this is it.  This is the quiet before the storm.” I’m mounting up for a big battle.  Then it ends.  But Episode 5 was worse.  There was no anticipation; no direction as to what was next; maybe an off-the-cuff comment that Luke’s going back to degobah? Then it ends.  And I sat back and said to myself “Good god.  Nothing happened.”  And the truth is not that nothing happened, but that nothing was accomplished.  And the heroes were left worse off than they began, with more questions than purpose.

So that’s what I remembered going into the mararthon.

What I remember leaving the marathon was …. Strangeness.  By episode 6, I was pretty tired and my contacts dried out, so I had to rewet them.

But overall, here goes.

Episode 1-3 were so dense and difficult to follow that I spent a ton of energy trying to keep track of all the characters and planet names, just to figure out the characters motivations, so I could string together a semblance of story.  By the time I was at Episode 4-6, they flew by as if they were only an hour long.  Not only because I had seen them many times before but because they were easier to follow, probably because less happens in them – especially Episode 5.  The other thing I realized was that Episode 1-3 follows the story of Obi Wan, Anakin, and Padme (this was more clear in episodes 2 and 3), where Episode 4-6 followed the story of Luke, Han, and Leia.

Episode 1-3 had the dilemma of having a lead who you wound up hating for much of the series, who would start as a hero and because he couldn’t control his feelings would become a villain.  Obi-Wan was a Jedi and had to be rather minimally emotive by design (and yet he was the most endearing).  And Padme, who was strong but had no range in emotion, making the romance in Episode 2 less believable.

Episode 4-6 instead followed an angsty but eager-to-help kid who steps up to the plate and becomes a hero fast, then develops his heroism as the series moves forward (with the help of Yoda in Episode 5, and his belief in his father in Episode 6).  It also had at its core a love triangle, since the first film (Episode 4).  They just milked the whole “two guys vying for one girl” joke – hard-core in Episode 5, until the reveal in Episode 6.  It was that love triangle dynamic that kept it light and made you fall in love with the leads.  Rewatching Episode 4-6 back to back, you see how chipper and witty the three leads are and how they all sort of love each other like family – but are all too macho to admit it.  For example, Han Solo starts as this no-good smuggler but quickly turns out to be a really nice guy.  He’s not tough to deal with at all, in fact, he’s rather charming, and he even puts his life and livelihood (the Millennium Falcon) on the line for Luke when he saves the day at the end.  Then the first (boring) 45 minutes of the next movie is just to prove that Han isn’t a bad guy because he braves the cold to find Luke (after a bunch of will-they-won’t-they moments with Leia).  And then in Episode 6, he’s just a nice guy, hero type.  It really makes you wonder… what was he doing in Mos Eisley in the first place?

After you compare the characters in each trilogy, the next talking point becomes the plot.  In both trilogies, the plot is based around the political events in the Republic (or Empire) that drives the military actions that motivate and inform nearly every scene in every movie.

Episode 4-6 was simple.

Episode 4: The Rebels versus the Empire, embodied by Darth Vader and the Death Star.

Episode 5:  The Rebels versus the Empire, embodied by Darth Vader and the Emperor.

Episode 6:  The Rebels versus the Empire, embodied by Darth Vader, the Emperor, and the Death Star.

Episodes 1-3 seemed to be satisfied with leaving us asking “what’s going on?” because for any given scene, even the Jedi themselves were uncertain of who the bad guy was.  There was this Phantom Menace that nobody could identify.  There was clearly a Sith lord, but who he was and how much influence he had in any given scene was unknown to us and the Jedi.  While there were identified villians (Darth Maul, Dooku, and Grievous),

Lucas broke one of the (Duenas) rules of a great hero story:

“There must be a clear villain.”

So let’s try the A versus B method:

Episode 1:  Um…. The Naboo versus the trade federation Droid Army?  But half the movie, the Jedi spend with Anakin, trying to get their ship repaired to get to Coruscant.  At least the finale was clear and triumphant: The Gungans (and Naboo) versus the Droid Army (and Trade Federation).  The good guys win.

Episode 2:  Um…. There really is no “versus” plot until maybe the end, when it becomes clear(er) that it would be the Separatists versus the Republic – but even then, I had to try really hard to figure out whose army is whose.  That really muddled the whole Coliseum battles.  So I guess it became the Separatists’ Droid Army and Count Dooku (who is rebelling against the Sith Lord – or working with the Sith Lord?), versus the Republic with their Clone Army, led by the Jedi (who did or didn’t commission the damn thing) at the behest of Chancellor Palpatine.  But half the movie, they spend finding out about the droid army.

Episode 3:  The Republic versus the Separatists.   After figuring it out in Episode 2, this became clearer.  It starts with the death of Episode 2’s villain, Dooku.  So they killed the Sith lord, right?  But there’s still war as long as there’s General Grievous.  Surely, they figure out that there’s another Sith?  I guess we didn’t have to wait too long because Palpatine comes right out and tells Anikin.  But he’s real clever because he plays on Anakin’s fear of losing Padme to make him betray the Jedi council, justify the murder, and take the right hand of the true Sith Master.  So… politically, the battles were confusing.  Still I liked the movie.

Why did I like Episode 3 so much?  Probably because that’s when Palpatine shows all his cards.  He’s so good in every scene he’s in.  And when you think back to every action he takes – even in other films – he always places himself in win-win scenarios. Plus, we’ve established the relationship between Anakin and Padme, so we’re not shocked or trying to justify it anymore.  Plus the movie moves like a Michael Bay film.  No joke.  It is relentless.  And the few scenes where there is no battles going on, the dialogue is crazy good (maybe I’m just thinking of the scene where Anakin and Palpatine are watching some show, and it ends with Palpatine saying “Not from a Jedi”).  Plus, all the tragedy.  The tragedy of Obi-Wan having to kill Anakin (or leave him for dead).  The tragedy of all the Jedi being knocked off with “Code 66”.  The tragedy of Padme dying giving birth because of her loss of love due to the grim actions of Anakin trying to become all-powerful to keep her from dying.  Now that’s irony!  And it opens up well.  The fun thing about Episode 4-6 is all the comic bickering between characters.  Episode 3 (or was it 2) had great rapport between Anakin and Obi-Wan.  I don’t remember all of Episode 3, but I remember enjoying it all.

So leaving the Marathon, my rankings are:

Episodes 4, 1, 6, 3, 5, 2.

Episode 4- Because the music is great, the fight scenes are amazing, the characters are lovable, and the ending is triumphant. and the following musical cues:  Ben-Kenobi’s Death and Tie Fighter Chase, Battle of Yavin 4, Throne Room and End Credits.

Episode 1- Because it holds a special place in my young boy heart.  It’s about a kid with magical powers who saves the day.  Plus, the pod race, Darth Maul (and finale battle), and the following musical cues:  Fanfare, Duel of the Fates, Battle Droids, Parade and End Credits.

Episode 6- Because even when I was young, I was a little irked by the whole kill-the death-star-again plot point, but only irked because overall it was just a fun movie! (save for the scenes on Tatooine with Jabba the Hutt which I tend to forget exist). And the music to the Forrest Battle, and Ewok Celebration.

Episode 3- Because of all the action, Palpatine laying out his cards, all the tragedy and twists.

Episode 5- Because it introduced the “Imperial March” and Yoda, and the cool fight where Vader reveals he’s his daddy.  Everything else about it was just flat.  Hoth was boring, except for the five minutes of AT-AT walkers which was cool for just a moment when they tied the cable around the feet.  Cloud City was like… what’s this all about? And then they get captured there.  Yoda put me to sleep.  Everyone of those scenes.  Luke’s vision of Vader confused me as a child and still seems out-of-place.  And it was the shortest of all the films.  And it ended like “what the hell”?

Episode 2- Because there were some really good scenes, Padme’s pretty hot in it, but I can’t remember most of it.  And the fact that I couldn’t care less about the battles and chase scenes in last hour where they’re in the Coliseum because I couldn’t follow the plot, made it almost a waste of time.

Before:   Episodes 4, 6, 1, 3, 5, 2.

After:      Episodes 4, 1, 6, 3, 5, 2.

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Star Wars Complete Saga in One Day (Analysis)

I did it! I watched the entire Star Wars Saga in one sitting. Six movies back-to-back starting with Episode I and ending with Episode VI. That’s over 12 hours of footage in glorious Blu-Ray on a 50″ plasma TV with surround sound. I learned so much and was finally able to follow everything thanks to  the pause button and my friends. I didn’t think I would but I changed my opinions about many of the films. Some films I liked, I liked less and others, I liked more. I guess I learned to appreciate certain films in a way I never had.

Let’s start with my rankings before going in:

IV, VI, I, III, II, V.

Yes. Episode V is last. Here’s a list of how many times I had seen each (in completion):

I: 5-10 (Once in theaters in ’99, several times on DVD, and once more in theaters in 3D a couple of years ago.)
II: Once in theaters in ’02.
III: Once in theaters in ’05.
IV: 5-10 (several times on VHS. once in theaters for the ’97 rerelease, once or twice since on DVD).
V: 1-4 (I owned the VHS, but never got past the first 30 minutes more than once or twice, as far as my memory serves me).
VI: 5-10 (Several times on VHS).

If you’re keeping track, it’s been years since I’ve re-watched any Star Wars. Most recently it was Episode I in 3D. Before that was Episode I on DVD, and before that was Episode IV in college (2008 or 2009). So it’s clear to audiences that I don’t see rewatch value in the entire series and it seems episode I and IV have the most rewatch value followed closely by VI. I think I loved Star Wars for the lightsabers, the spectacle, and the force. Oh and the music. But beyond that, it wasn’t a go-to film for me.

It sustained me for most of my childhood, having watched them countless times on VHS (before I could even remember things). And when the special editions came out in ’97 we got the new VHS set and broke those in (oh the joys of untangling magnetic tape) with a only little more long-term memory formation (the most broken in of those was IV and VI). But by the time college came around a decade later, I had nearly forgotten the plot of all the films (in fact, as of this viewing, I forgot the plot of every movie except for most of I and IV). At some point I learned to love the ideas of the franchise more than the films: lightsabers and the force, Luke as a hero and role model and Darth Vader as a villain.

Episode I came out when I was 12 and it became my favorite of the series. It was the brightest, happiest, most fun Star Wars that I had seen. It had all of the action I desired in a Star Wars movie. Plus, it followed a child protagonist who I could relate to: I loved my mom and had a heart that wanted good in the world even if I didn’t know how to accomplish it. The scenes where Anakin has to leave his mother always hits hard with me. It’s one of the most poignant moments in the entire series. It’s probably because I really loved my mom and could feel the pain my mom would go through if I left her. Today it still hits hard, because I love my mom and know the pain she went through went I left for college and when my sister died. It seems many people didn’t feel this emotion and I wonder if it’s because they didn’t grow up with a similar loving relationship with their parents. It was a loss of innocence story that was fresh in my mind and continues to this day.

Anyway, I probably watched Episode I 2-3 times in theaters, and kept watching it on VHS and DVD. It had Duel of the Fates, Darth Maul, his double-lightsabers, and the pod-race. Having seen all 6 this weekend, I still think it’s one of the best light-saber fights in the franchise. Anything from the original trilogy pales in comparison. Darth Maul’s fight has re-watch value. It has capable actors actually performing with acrobatics and precision speed. Plus there is an emotional bend to it that makes you connect to Obi-Wan and makes you fearful that his rage doesn’t do him in.

So to make a long-story short. I was a weird Star Wars fan. I’m the fan that George Lucas was writing the original trilogy for. A fan who liked the hope, fun, and beauty of Episode I and cared less for the cold dark films of the original trilogy (set in space, a desert planet, an ice planet, and finally a planet with greenery). Having seen episode IV through VI before I was old enough to care about the twist in V, I grew to only like films which offered good re-watch value, like IV, VI, and I for their action and positive, fun attitude. Episodes V, II, and III felt like tragic downers and fillers to get to the triumphant finales of IV and VI. And Episode I joined the group of upper finale films.

Furthermore, by the age of 12 (when Episode I came out) I started watching R-rated action films like: Speed, The Rock, Broken Arrow, and others. Also, by ’99 The Matrix had come out. So sitting on my film rack were those films on VHS and they took priority over the Star Wars franchise when it came to re-watching films because they were much more entertaining. So when Episode II came out in ’02, I was unimpressed (and confused), and when Episode III came out in ’05, I was comparing it to Pirates of the Caribbean, Bad Boys II, Snatch, and Fight Club. I was bored with Star Wars.

THAT WAS MY FRAME OF REFERENCE.

But I vowed to put personal prejudices aside and people’s opinions aside too when viewing the saga. I tried to watch the movie as if I were watching it for the first time. I vowed to not be defensive about everyone’s hate toward Jar Jar. I vowed to open my mind about everyone’s love for Episode V. I also vowed to watch the series based on my new written-down axioms of film-making. Things I want to see in movies and things I feel make movies worse and others that make things universally work. I analyzed it from acting, writing, and against the entire arc of the saga. I feel I did a fair job of being honest with myself and it shocked me about which films I ended up liking more than others. And it shocked me how, afterward, I could rationalize myself out of liking films I had a lot of fun watching or how I could rationalize myself into respecting films I thought were boring.

THE RESULTS:

The biggest change for me was Episode III. I was bored the first time in theaters because I couldn’t follow the story, but this time I followed it much better and understood all of the tragedy and clever plotting of George Lucas and the Emperor. The pace was lightning fast, the music was above average, and the action/montages were epic. It was exciting and I was having fun at re-learning all of the twists and turns. There was so much in the movie that it felt like 3 hours of content and story even though it was much closer to 2 hours. I was thoroughly impressed with George’s ability to entangle a plot and present it visually on screen. In the end I moved Episode III up in the rankings.

Episode II also shocked me. I was much more impressed with it than when I left in theaters. The only thing that ruined the film for me and everyone who watched it was the love chemistry between Padme and Anakin. A lot of people really blamed Anakin for the poor chemistry, but Hayden played him perfectly because that’s how he was written. He’s supposed to be a whiny bitchy creeper! That’s the type of guy who turns into Vader. That’s what George Lucas was saying. Unfortunately, Natalie Portman didn’t play it right. Or somehow her transition from “Don’t look at me that way” to kissing Anakin was awful. Awful. She played it too inwardly stoic or emotionlessly. It was as if she had botox. She completely failed to build and convey a character who would fall in love with Anakin, but it was totally doable and this is the character: a sexually-repressed overwhelmed leader incapable of dating due to her responsibilities, and a broken woman who gave Anakin her virgin love, because of his admirable, yet creepy relentless love for her. She was someone who threw caution to the wind on her “vacation” at Naboo and decided to indulge in a summer fling with Anakin. Yet like many women, once she opens herself to sexual feelings to another man that she feels is unqualified of her love, she often times justifies her actions by trying harder and harder to convince herself that the man she let kiss her is actually a good and dateable person. I’ve seen this in so many real-life tragic relationships, where a man sleeps with a girl on a one-night stand and instead of the girl accepting the fact that she was just as slutty as the man (confronting her guilt), she tries to continue the relationship and find the good in the guy. That was all there in the screenplay, but somehow Natalie missed all of that. And she failed to convey it on screen. Blame the director? Possibly. But don’t blame Hayden. Hayden was a believable angsty kid who shoots up a schoolyard because he can’t get his childhood crush to like him instead of the jocks. Anakin was relentless, though awkward, at getting the girl of his dreams (kind of how Jack broke down Rose’s wall or Ryan Gosling stalked Rachel McAdams in the Notebook, only Hayden wasn’t as beautiful as those people). Fortunately, Anakin got the girl instead of shooting up the schoolyard. But in a way, he still shoots up the galactic schoolyard by joining the dark side.

So bad acting aside, I thought the story was well-written.

Episode I also surprised me. I was left feeling a little cold which I’ll explain in a minute, but I also couldn’t help laughing at Jar Jar. I didn’t hate him at all, I just laughed at how ridiculous this character is. And in no way was he written as a secret Sith he was written as the insignificant character whose good heart and selflessness reunites a planet in a fight against the droid army. The beginning of the Duel of the Fates got me nervous because it was only an okay sword fight, pretty boring. It wasn’t until Qui-Gon was bygone that the fight escalated and became an amazing choreography. Furthermore, I realized I’m a sound-and-visual person. Because the podrace was once again an eargasm of sound effects and eyegasm of special effects and fast action. I continue to enjoy it even though it doesn’t deserve to be 10 minutes long and was completely deleteable.

That said, I’ll attempt to explain why the original trilogy was more engaging than the prequel trilogy. Simply put:

THERE WAS NO PASSION.

In the prequel trilogy the apparent protagonists (the character(s) we follow and whose decisions/actions push the story forward) were the Jedis and Anakin. For the first 20 minutes of Episode I our protagonists were completely untouchable (emotionally) characters: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Two leads who completely controlled their emotions and were unphased by encounters. They didn’t shit their pants nor flip out on each other. They were perfect heroes, which to many are boring. To me as a kid, they were role models. Unfortunately, from a film-making, story-telling stand point, it feels cold. They have no strong passion for anything, nothing we can empathize with. Even Padme/Queen Amedala was forced to be emotionless because of her political position. In fact most of the players in the play were political. We were watching Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fight the oil industry (trade federation) through politics. When Anakin shows up, he’s the first character to be emotional and if you watch his emotions you begin to see a character who was fearful and beginning to doubt the good in the universe but never giving up completely. He was willing to help and he put his life on the line for the greater good of the noble Jedis. But his strong will and uncontrollable emotion led to his turn to the dark side.

In Episode II and III we follow a new Anakin, an anti-hero who is annoying and whiny and one we know turns to  the dark side. But he’s not someone we’re rooting for anymore, he’s someone we roll our eyes at when he says things and when he gets the girl.

In Episode III at least we see the tragedy of Anakin come to light, but the journey wasn’t enjoyable.

But I feel the biggest problem of the prequel trilogy is that it’s a mystery story and a puzzle piece story. It runs on the principle of what is going on? And why are these things happening? It puts our protagonists in the position of reacting to the plans of some mastermind instead of making their own destiny.

And that leads to the true problem of the prequel trilogy:

In the prequel trilogy, our protagonist (the character whose decision move the story forward) was the phantom menace (Darth Sidious). His actions set everything in motion. Aside from some sort of cosmic fate that the Jedis find Anakin in Episode I, the story moves forward because Darth Sidious is taking action and the Jedis are scrambling to understand events and find the mastermind.

Compare this to the original trilogy where Leia is being hunted because she has plans to destroy the Death Star and our heroes journey to return the plans to the Rebellion and save the day. This is followed by the sequels which essentially also revolve around the Rebellion and destruction of the Empire. The motives are clear. There is no mystery. Furthermore,

The original trilogy has a clear villain and clear heroes. The prequel trilogy has a mysterious villain (Darth Sidious) and a broken tragic hero.

Also, the prequel trilogy was a tragedy while the original trilogy was a triumph. If the prequel trilogy worked right, then the hero we’re supposed to empathize with in Episode I turns to the dark side by episode III. It’s a tragedy by design which is the exact opposite story of the original trilogy, where the protagonist fights temptation and ends up turning evil good. So at best you’re left in a dark, bitter place by the end of Episode III. That would actually make IV slightly more triumphant, but we still have to wait 3 more hours until Anakin (as Darth Vader) turns good again. And all of a sudden we’re following a different cast of protagonists.

CONCLUSION

At the end of the 12 hours. I came to realize that none of the films are worth rewatching. Because they’re all equally important on the tragic arc of Anakin. In reality, Episode IV through VI are only to complete the arc of Anakin, but why then focus on Luke and his friends? And if you think about it more, the only point of episode V was to put Han in danger, reveal that Darth is Luke’s father, and start Luke’s training into a Jedi.  In my opinion, if you got rid of Han’s story-line (from Cloud City to Jabba’s palace) and put the other two plot points into the beginning of Episode VI then you would have a much tighter, less meandering story.

However, the greatest part of the original trilogy is that you were following flawed humans and watching them grow into heroes. And when you have flawed humans, you have more fun, more visibly passionate characters. People can be assholes to each other and it’s okay because they’re not supposed to be perfect like Jedi yet. So eliminating Han’s arc would eliminate some of the charm about the original trilogy. The films were about the group of friends, the camaraderie among our flawed heroes. They were just like us, and trying their hardest to do the right thing. Hans’s arc was from scoundrel to hero. It’s supposed to say that people can change and even though you may be a smuggler, it doesn’t mean you’re unredeemable or not a product of your bad environment. This story arc makes Han shooting first so vital. He’s not supposed to be likable. It’s ironic that George tries to quell the exact reason why people like Han. It’s because people like people who take action, have a goal, and go after their vision with any means necessary (even murder). That’s why Indiana Jones works, he never gives up on his quest for the Ark of the Covenant (or Holy Grail).

Anyway, I’m glad I watched the complete saga. I have incredible respect for George Lucas to have created this whole thing entirely on his own! There are incredible cinematic feats and tragically bad acting along with fun acting. How Lucas crafted Darth Sidious’s rise to power is absolutely genious. It’s realistic, believable, and an allegory for the dangers of our current and past social structure. It’s a warning tale. It shows just how knowledgeable Lucas is about life and society.

Unfortunately, it’s too long for me to rewatch enthusiastically. However, I hear there are “Phantom Edits” of the prequel trilogy and shortened versions of the films. So if there was a two hour version of each of the trilogies, then I may just watch them. I know there is a two hour version of the prequel trilogy, I just hope there is a version of the original trilogy that gets rid of the boring\unnecessary parts of V (Hoth, Degobah) and VI (Jabba’s palace). Maybe even tightens all of the Tatooine scenes in the original.

 

 

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Yojimbo vs A Fistful of Dollars

This past weekend, I rented Yojimbo (1961, dir./co-writer Akira Kurosawa) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964, dir. Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood). They were recommended by my student advisor at RRFC (a mentorship program) to help develop a story I want to write. It only helped inform me of a direction I don’t want to take. The rest of this article is more of a diary for me, so feel free to skip it, but it does cover some similarities and differences between the films and explains why I fell asleep to both.

My story called for someone to create a hit list that turns a high school’s student body against each other (more like McCarthyism, black lists, witch hunts, or The Twilight Zone episode The Monsters are Due on Maple Street). But my mentor thought watching these two films about an outsider turning two rival gangs on each other would be helpful. Little did I know that they’re the exact same story!

Made only 3 years apart on two different continents (Japan, then Europe) the first 15 minutes makes it obvious that Sergio Leone had ripped off the Kurosawa film in basic premise and even dialogue. So much so that Kurosawa sued Leone and they settled out of court.

I watched the latter first since I had seen The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966, dir. Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood) a few months earlier, and I really enjoyed it for its characters, plot (and twists), and music. Furthermore, I had seen Seven Samurai (1954, dir./co-writer Akira Kurosawa) a decade ago, because Star Wars, and I don’t remember it all but I do remember being bored and forgetting about it.

In the opening of A Fistful of Dollars, Clint Eastwood (a hired gun) walks into town see some family fighting, then is harassed by some gang. Then he enters a tavern where the owner feeds him despite knowing the stranger doesn’t have money. The owner then warns the stranger to leave after eating, informing the stranger about the two rival gangs and their back story. He also tells the stranger that the only venture that’s profitable is casket maker for all the dead bodies. The stranger decides to stay, informing the owner that there is much money to be made for him. He then heads outside, tells the coffin maker to make 3 coffins, picks a fight with the gang that harassed him,  kills 4 of them, then heads to the rival gang to be hired, but while walking past the coffin maker tells him, “My bad, better make that four.”

In Yojimbo, a Samurai (a hired warrior) walks into town, sees some family fighting, then is harassed by some gang. Then he enters a restaurant where the owner feeds him despite knowing the stranger doesn’t have money. The owner then warns the stranger to leave after eating, informing the stranger about the two rival gangs and their back story. He also tells the stranger that the only venture that’s profitable is coffin maker for all the dead bodies. The stranger decides to stay, informing the owner that he makes money from killing people and after he kills all the gangs, the town can start fresh. He then heads outside, picks a fight with the gang that harassed him, kills 3 of their members, then heads to the rival gang to be hired, but while walking he passes the casket maker and tells him to make 2 coffins, make that 3.

There are differences between the two, with the remake being a little bit more complicated and intricate to the Western setting as opposed to the Japanese setting. But overall, the same story.

This video here demonstrates some similarities, completely failing to note how the tavern scene was beat-for-beat the same, with slightly different words.

And this article here delineates some of the other similarities. http://nerdist.com/rampant-remakery-yojimbo-vs-a-fistful-of-dollars/

So I’m not going to repeat them. Not knowing that they were related, I was simply shocked at the first fifteen minutes of Yojimbo after watching half of A Fistful of Dollars, falling asleep, then having it summarized by my brother.

At one point during watching Yojimbo, around 1hr 9 min, I switched to the audio commentary  (thanks to the Criterion Collection DVD) and that’s exactly the point the film expert making the commentary mentioned that Kurosawa’s inspiration for the story was actually the film noir The Glass Key (1942) which was based off of the 1931 novel by the same name (written by Dashiell Hammett).  Red Harvest is also mentioned. Wikipedia also points out that: “In Red Harvest, The Glass Key, and Yojimbo, corrupt officials and businessmen stand behind and profit from the rule of gangsters.” They also claim Last Man Standing (1996, dir. Walter Hill, starring Bruce Willis) is also an adaptation of Yojimbo.

I highly recommend watching the whole movie with that narration instead if you’ve already seen Fistful.

Overall, neither film appealed to me. Both were dreadfully slow and about despicable characters doing despicable things to each other. Like many films I hate, it was an excuse to create violence. There were rarely any laughs and I was not attached to any character. I think in both films, the protagonist is too cool and seems to not care about anything or anyone (in fact, money drives him). Contrast this to any Tom Cruise movie or Indiana Jones movie where the protagonist is always working toward something and is more cocky than cool. A too cool character has no passion. People like passion. It can be argued that the lack of clear motive in any scene for these characters makes the audience wonder, what’s he up to?, but for me, it makes me lose interest. Momentary cockiness is cool and fun, but cool and stoic for the whole movie is boring.

For me, A Fistful of Dollars was also too complicated to follow too since all of the Italian actors looked the same (especially when playing Mexicans using black-face) and it had more sets than just the town. Yojimbo was slow too but easier to follow (maybe because I knew the story by now). I had to say that both were well shot. However, Yojimbo felt more like it was filmed on sets, which in one aspect meant that the blocking in a room and camera movements were more interesting. A Fistful of Dollars made great use of what felt like real locales and more stylized camera angles (both wide angle close ups and zoom lenses). Also, Yojimbo felt more emotional due to music and Japanese intensity. Overall, Yojimbo was a much better movie. More passion, more emotional scenes, easier plot, well filmed (more epic), and great music. But I still stopped halfway through to listen to the audio commentary which was extremely enlightening as it breaks down writing decisions and cinematic film decisions Kurosawa made and the films historical context and commentary on capitalism and the fall of feudalism and the Samurai. He also calls out the “jokes” that us westerners never really get.

But I’m glad I got a chance to watch them both because I’m becoming a more knowledgeable filmmaker and now people can’t use this plot line against me. And maybe when I make another film, I can use it to my advantage. But they’re not for me and not for my current script. Both are foreign films though and help to inform me of what other cultures are capable of cinematically. So I’m very grateful to have watched them. But now I need to return both to the rental store because I don’t want to pay for another week with them.

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Save the Cat – Loglines

I read this book a while ago and it got me on a logline writing frenzy. Most of the good ones I came up with ended up being joke loglines like this one I made for a potential Bananagrams movie:

Investigations into a Columbian drug ring reveal a distribution network through banana exports. #Bananagrams

My brother and I ended up starting a shortly lived “Logline Limbo” blog that documented such bad loglines. The loglines that put movies in limbo or movie purgatory.

Recently I’ve been needing to revisit loglines and I found these blogs about the teachings from the highly appraised book Save The Cat. They help explain loglines and how to write good ones, and are supplements to the book, which I highly recommend, but also are better cheat sheets than the book so I recommend both.

Here they are (I better not paraphrase this time because this blogger does that well):

http://goodinaroom.com/blog/6-things-about-pitching-you-can-learn-from-blake-snyder/

http://www.savethecat.com/todays-blog/try-this

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On Directing Film by David Mamet

On Directing Film by David Mamet

A review by Shawn Duenas

“Always do things in the least interesting way, and you make a better movie.” pg 20

A hand grabs a book off of the shelf. It’s opened wide. A young man’s eyes scan the pages. A hand turns the pages, we’re halfway through. The young man’s eyes are fighting falling asleep. The last page of the book is turned. Finally, the book is closed. The man stares calmly at the wall. “Why ‘da f*** am I taking advice on directing film from a screenwriter who’s directed nothing memorable and believes the quote above?”

David Mamet’s thesis about film can be summed up in the following quotes.

[A movie] “is a succession of images juxtaposed so that the contrast between these images move the story forward in the mind of the audience.” pg 2

“The dream and the film are the juxtaposition of images in order to answer a question.” pg 7

“The job of the film director is to tell the story through the juxtaposition of uninflected images…” pg 60

He comes to this conclusion from his screenwriting background, having won screenwriting awards (primarily for Glenngary Glen Ross which was based on his experience working in a similar real estate agency) but having no recognition for the two films he had directed before deciding to write this book.

Chapter One is an easy read and goes to support the often cited claim that it’s a fast read (it’s 107 pages on 5.1″ x 7.75″ paper, 0.2″ leading).

Chapter Two (the bulk of the book, 48 of the 107 pages) attempts to explain the question “Where Do I Put the Camera?” It was a tedious chapter to read, and goes to support my argument that it wasn’t an easy read to follow. It was written in the form of a faux conversation between him as a visiting professor and his students (based on his semester teaching at Columbia University in the fall of 1987). It’s tedious be it builds on itself as it progresses and if you skipped the previous page, you’re struggling to catch up. But that’s not to say everything he writes is important. It’s mostly to say that it is written like a lengthy meandering math proof without knowing what we’re trying to prove.

Imagine sitting in on an architecture class and the professor keeps asking the class what might be the best way to construct a bridge. The class answers with their best guess and he tells everyone they’re wrong. He then gives them what he feels is the right answer in an effort to explain his thesis. And gives no insight into actually executing the vision.

Does he answers the chapter’s question of Where do I put the camera? No and I think that’s on purpose. Instead he spends the whole chapter attempting to WRITE a scene with his students, NOT DIRECT one that was already written. It’s a series of ask-the-student-what-they-might-do then tell them that’s probably not good. Instead consider my story idea. Yeah, this is definitely good. Maybe. Let’s go with it anyway.

I think he doesn’t answer the question directly until the next chapter (at least 48 pages later) because he’s using the question as the hook to keep the audience interested. Unfortunately, it just frustrates me because he instead focuses on writing a script.

Sprinkled throughout are some helpful reminders on writing a scene and what makes a scene work. Here are the few clear and useful words in the chapter:

” ‘what does the protagonist want?’ Because the scene ends when the protagonist gets it.” pg 10

“It’s impossible to make a character interesting in general.” pg 11

“The story can only be interesting because we find the progress of the protagonist interesting.” pg 12

“The truth is, you never have to establish the character. In the first place, there is no such thing as character other than habitual action, as Mr. Aristotle told us two thousand years ago.” pg 13

“The character is just habitual action.” pg 13

“Now, don’t you go ‘establishing’ things. Make the audience wonder what’s going on by putting them in the same position as the protagonist.” pg 14

“The moment the protagonist…stops trying to get something and starts trying to influence someone, the audience will go to sleep.” pg 14

“How do we keep their attention? Certainly not by giving them more information but, on the contrary, by withholding information–by withholding all information except that information the absence of which would make the progress of the story incomprehensible.” pg 20

Definitely good reminders of how to write well. But he interjects his words of wisdom in the middle of the larger framework of writing a scene. And in writing a scene he introduces the idea of

THE BEAT

But he doesn’t really explain that either. Instead he just starts to use the concept and hopes we figure it out. For example, he’s writing a scene where the super-objective is for a student to win the respect of the instructor. Inside the scene are several beats that start of with: earliness, to prepare (which is better than waiting, grooming, studying), homage (which is better than greeting and any other beat we’ve done already), and others. It’s hard to follow which beat they’re working toward on any given page because he’s constantly soliciting the students for answers and slowly coming to the conclusion that the students’ answers are bad and declaring his as better. Then forces the students to work toward his beat choice.

In this chapter he never gets around to explaining what a beat is, what makes one better, or how to go about finding or creating a beat. He does go into writing the beat into a scene. For example, for earliness, he avoids using the cliche clock but does go for: a hand grabs the door handle and it doesn’t open. I’m still not clear as to why he made his choices and why they’re objectively better.

Anyway, I skipped to the end and had no idea where they had concluded the scene nor did I care.

Chapter 3 (pg 57-66) was informative and gave us the following useful quotes since it’s written in a more traditional prose manner.

“…the bad author…has to take up the slack by making each subsequent event more diverting than the last; to trick the audience into paying attention.” pg 62

Aren’t we all tricking the audience into paying attention? Your ploy of positing a question and not answering it ever, is a trick and a form of disrespect to your audience.

“The structure of any dramatic form should be syllogism—which is a logical construct of this form: If A, then B. A play or movie proceeds from a statement: ‘if A’ (in which condition of unrest is created or posited), to a conclusion: “then B” (at which time entropy will once again rear its corrective head, and a condition of rest will have been once again achieved).” pg 63

Which relates to how you know a scene has ended because you’ve answered the question you set up at the beginning of it.

“To get into the scene late and to get out early is to demonstrate respect for your audience.” pg 63

Something he forgets about in his writing style for chapters 2 and 4.

“The film business is caught in a spiral of degeneracy because it’s run by people who have no compass. And the only thing you can do in the face of this downward force is tell the truth. Anytime anyone tells the truth, that’s a counterforce.” pg 65

Finally, we’ve arrived at the most cliche outsider hateful perspective of the work of others. He doesn’t even choose to say that many or most people have no compass. He seems to think he’s better than everyone and that the esoteric “truth” cliche is worth standing behind.

Chapter 4. The Task of the Director (What to Tell the Actors and Where to Put the Camera) pg 67-78

“To give direction to an actor you do the same thing you do when you give direction for a cameraman. You refer to the objective of the scene.” pg 68

“Acting should be a performance of the simple physical action.” pg 68

“The more the actor tries to make each physical action carry the meaning of the ‘scene’ or ‘play’, the more that actor is ruining your movie.” pg 68

“Actors will ask a lot of questions. ‘What am I thinking here?’ ‘What is my motivation?’ ‘Where did I just come from?’ The answer to all of these questions is it doesn’t matter.” pg 71

George Lucas must be really proud of this guy. Now there’s some merit to this claim to avoid overacting or and unnecessarily stylistic camerawork. But this alienate him from actors and inspires wooden dry performances.

“The purpose of rehearsal is to tell the actors exactly the actions called for, beat by beat.” pg 71

This only goes to show you how much he doesn’t know and how reading this book gets you no closer to directing a cinematic classic like Spielberg.

Chapter 5. Pig The Movie (pg 79 – 102)

We’re back to the student-professor dialogue. Dear God. I stopped reading at this point.

Chapter 6. Conclusion (pg 103-107)

I think it’s mostly inspiration (just go out and make movies, there’s nothing magical about it) and rephrasing (with less clarity) what he had written earlier.

SUMMARY

And now you’ve read the book. Seriously, I gave you all of the quotes I highlighted and found useful from the book and juxtaposed next to each other, it’s very clear what his argument is. Now it’s up to you to look up what this guy has DIRECTED and you tell me if you want to learn from a loser?

At best he’s absolutely right. Perhaps maybe this is what Spielberg and Scorsese do. But at worst, he’s giving you the mindset of a proven loser.

Not only is this guy an actor’s nightmare, but he’s an audience’s nightmare. Here fights against nuanced performances and against interesting visual or situations to keep me interested! He seems to think they’re mutually exclusive to making a good story.

He seems to have taken the fact that he was on set in the director’s chair twice as proof that he can direct. I think not.

My rating of the book: 2/5 for the quotes above.

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