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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Action movies

http://www.avclub.com/article/how-make-good-action-film-11-lessons-modern-movies-222083

This article got me thinking about what action movies I like. I seem to like and respect all of the action scenes and fight choreography shown here, but the lack of characters having fun was noticeable. Lock out was my favorite clip of the bunch.

And I noticed that the mission impossible stunt was epic but fell flat. It got me riveted twice: when he fell the first time and when he missed the window. But the whole scene was flat. Why? Because he had 27 minutes to succeed (as made abundantly clear by the bad writing). There was no impending time crunch. In mission impossible one, the equivalent scene had people getting closer and closer, forcing Ethan to change plans and risk getting caught. The music was intensely quiet and it worked well. In MI4, The music slowed down the pace and made it boring. But it was boring with or without the music because there was no threat of getting caught. No rush. No situation. Just a guy climbing. Furthermore, Ethan seemed reluctant. But that’s not Ethan’s character! He’s a go getter and excited to get shit done. He looks forward to the impossible! It’s not a challenge until it’s impossible. He wasn’t haven’t fun, so we weren’t either.

I guess I like my action movies to be fun. And I feel that if the hero isn’t enjoying himself, that it’s harder for the audience to. I feel that if the lead can have fun in the scene, then the audience has fun too. In every Indiana Jones, Indy smiles, smirks and/or feel smug and happy about his efforts. In Broken Arrow, even the villain smiles, as does the hero when he wins $20 at the end of the movie. In the Matrix, Morpheus smiles a lot, and Neo doesn’t necessarily smile, but after self actualization begins to feel confident to play with the agent before consuming him. In Armageddon, everyone is having fun. In Bad Boys, Will Smith is always enjoying himself. In MIB, Will Smith is always wise cracking and enjoying himself. In Hancock, Will Smith never smiles, and the film sucked. In Goldeneye, Bond is smug and finds humor in anything. In Die Hard, Bruce Willis gets excited about a ton of stuff. In Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack is non-stop smug and smiling, and even Will Turner finds the opportunity to smile and have fun, several times throughout, especially in the finale. In the Mask of Zorro, Antonio’s character loves to smile and be witty. Star Wars has Han’s ecstatic cheers and “don’t get cocky kid” response to Luke’s cheers. It even has the Throne Room! Superman smiles and is adorably charming virtually the whole movie! And in almost every Tom Cruise action movie, Tom puts on his Maverick smile and let’s the audience in on some fun times.

In contrast, almost all revenge flicks lack levity and have the lead in a tormented emotional state. One where he can’t allow himself to have fun. In The Dark Knight, nobody smiles ever, even after the pencil gag. In fact, in all Nolan films, you’re not allowed to be happy or sit in awe and wonder. You’re forced to watch miserable people put up with tough situations. Memento, The Prestige, Batman, Inception, Interstellar. Can you  name one instance where the lead smiles? Now name how many time the lead is troubled emotionally.

In Mad Max, maybe the kid who turns can be referenced as having fun, but the leads are miserable. The film was visually amazing, but the characters were extremely tormented and almost incapable of having fun. It was sad.

I noticed that even though Terminator 1 is a highly effective film, I don’t have as much fun as T2 because the protagonist in T1 is horrified the whole movie while the protagonist in T2 (John Connor) manages to have fun with the Terminator several times (You have to do what I say?). Hell, even Arnold gives a smirk or two throughout the film.

I’ll even throw some credit toward The Avengers, where Tony Stark has fun incessantly, and Captain America is delightfully hopeful and loves to flash his pearly whites.

Yeah, so I like action movies where the leads are having fun. I don’t like action for the violence or explosions or gadgets. I like movies because of leads I can get behind. Leads who have fun and I would want to have fun with.

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Lessons from Liar Liar

The first time I saw this movie was in theaters back in 1997, so I was 9 1/2 years old. I remember liking it but forgetting about it until we got it on VHS. From that point on it was a sure fire laugh.
As a kid you don’t fully get all of the sexual references but you laugh because Jim Carrey is so happy and goofy. As an adult I’ve come to realize how 21st century the whole family dynamic was (divorced-wife is sleeping with a man she’s been dating for 9 months and the divorced-husband sleeps with his boss for a promotion). And somehow I’m okay with the dynamic (I guess it’s okay because they’ve been separated for 9 months!).
One of the reasons why I popped this movie back into the DVD player tonight was to challenge my belief that movies where characters start as despicable and learn to become decent humans for the sake of a “character arc” don’t work, or at the very least are very dangerous.
You see, I’ve seen too many films where the protagonist is a complete dick for most of the movie and “learns to be better.” And that somehow justifies sitting around for half a movie watching the protagonist do shitty things to good people. I’m always shocked when people walk out of the experience really liking the character and being able to laugh it all off (in comedies) or simply accept it (in dramas) for the sake of the story.
Two movies in particular were extremely uncomfortable to sit through because the filmmakers chose to make the protagonist despicable on the outset. The first was Groundhog Day and the second was Bridesmaid. In Bill Murray’s classic, Bill is jaded and mean to those around him and does it with the full intention of hurting their feelings or at least seeing how far he can go. His subordinates just take it because he’s the star. But by the end of the movie he learns to be nice so it’s all okay. Right? Well not for me. In Bridesmaid, Kristen Whig is a complete asshole to her family and friends and gets some sense smacked into her when she hits rock bottom only. Then she changes in the last act and all is good.

Unfortunately, they both dug their heels in for so long that I lost all empathy for their characters and got frustrated with the whole experience.
But I understand why the filmmakers felt the need to go that route. After all we’ve all had it hammered into our heads that our protagonist needs a character arc. They need to change. So they need to start with a flaw and change for the better. And the larger the change the better! Unfortunately I feel that often times this leads to making the lead character pretty despicable. And if I feel the characters are awful human beings I have no interest on taking a two hour journey with them. Furthermore I have no interest in seeing them get rewarded at the end of the film. And I’m not alone! Most studios would agree on this. They’re always trying to make their protagonists more likable, often times to the detriment of the story and common sense.
That said, I’ve surprised myself at how many movies I like where the protagonist is deeply flawed yet I still manage to empathize with them. Liar Liar is one of those films. Here we have a lead who lies for a living, lies to his ex-wife, and accidentally lies to his kid because he prioritizes his career over his kid. All of that is pretty lousy, but I still love him almost immediately. Why? (And it’s not because I’m a huge Jim Carrey fan; it was probably the first Jim Carrey film I’d ever seen, and it’s still one of a few I can actually tolerate him in).
The way Liar Liar solved this was by first painting him as unreliable but still a loving father and someone who brought joy anywhere he went. Someone who made people happy. Furthermore, the character WAS happy. He wasn’t miserable like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day or Kristen Whig in Bridesmaid. It wasn’t until the adults started to converse and we started to see his work life that we saw how shady he actually was. But you could still see that he had a good heart and wanted to see his family be happy. And when he was a scoundrel and slept with the boss instead of going to the birthday party, he made us laugh. Furthermore, it was almost like he didn’t want to but he couldn’t help himself. And every time he would call home he seemed to genuinely be apologizing.
So I started out liking him and therefore he had to do a lot to make me unlike him. Plus, in this particular movie, it felt like most of the conflict with him and his son came from him never being around which isn’t something done intentionally to malign our hurt someone.

  1. Make me like him first. If he is noble or trying to do good or does something good first, then when he does bad, I’ll think twice.
  2. Make me laugh. Comedy is the best way to get away with despicable actions but you have to play it right. The character has to truly believe that his actions will help him win and the audience has to know what he’s trying to win. For example, if the lead is trying to win the heart of his fiancee’s parents, it’s okay that he lied and spray painted the cat’s tail black (Meet the Parents). Plus, it’s a fine line because if your audience doesn’t find the actor funny, then comedy can’t cover up despicable characters. On the other hand, get a good actor that everyone finds funny and you can get away with almost anything if it makes the audience laugh.
  3. Make me smile. The easiest way to do this is if the character being despicable is smiling. Smiling is infectious. It’s hard to hate someone who smiles unless it comes off a not genuine.
  4. Don’t make him mean-spirited. If people do mean things intentionally that goes a long way toward making them unsympathetic. On the other hand, if the reasons they do mean things are unintentional (like being unreliable, late, or self-centered) there is still hope for empathy.
  5. Make me empathize with him first. Often times movies will wrong the lead profoundly so he’s justified in any other action he takes. For example, many revenge films will start with the lead’s family getting killed. In comedies, you might have the lead in an awful desk job or in miserable working conditions. In high school films, the nerd/underdog will get picked on for no reason.
  6. Let them believe in what they’re doing. In Wedding Crashers, our heroes start the movie as full-on players who enjoy themselves and their life style. They’re not conflicted about it in anyway. It’s only when Owen Wilson falls in love that he begins to change. If the leads hated themselves or their lifes (Groundhog Day, Bridesmaid), it’s no longer fun or funny, it’s tragic.

List of movies where the lead is a jackass and it did NOT work for me:

  • Groundhog Day. Jesus, for the whole first day, he’s absolutely despicable. Mean and demeaning to everyone around him. If it wasn’t Bill Murray, nobody would like this movie. In fact, you have to actively be a Bill Murray fan to like this film, but I’m not because as an actor he has no passion. He doesn’t care for anything in the scene or anyone. His lack of enthusiasm lowers the stakes of the entire film. Plus, he always comes off like a snarky prick.
  • Bridesmaid. Similar to Bill Murray’s lack of passion, Kristen Wig doesn’t seem to care about anything or anyone in the whole film. It was hard to find a redeeming grace about her character (or her acting) until it was fed to us at the end.
  • Hook. Dear God, for at least half of the movie he’s an unhappy miserable up-tight lawyer who blows off his kids recitals and ball games. He tries to get to the games, but it’s pretty clear that the kids really resent him. They’re not disappointed, they hate him. If other characters in the movie say bad things or hate the lead, the audience must assume they’re right until proven wrong. Of course by the end he learns his lessons, but it’s far too late for me. Fortunately, Spielberg magical touch made everyone else around him bearable. If people didn’t love Robin Williams walking in, it would have been a hard movie to swallow.
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This character is so self-centered and obsessive that he doesn’t even try to fix things with his family or go back to help him. By the end of the film he decides to leave the planet. There’s a reason why many heroes are orphans: because leaving your family for a self-centered selfish quest is unacceptable in most societies.

List of movies I love where others argue the lead is a jerk and it still works in my mind (and my reasons why I feel it still works).

  • Toy Story. Woody spends most of the movie trying to eliminate Buzz and break his spirit completely. Yeah, I can see this. In fact, watching the behind-the-scenes of Toy Story, the filmmakers even saw this at one stage of the film. Woody was bitter and a complete mean-spirited asshole. And the movie was falling flat and uncomfortable. The way they fixed it was making him empathetic in the beginning (he was the leader, the father figure for the group) and when Buzz shows up you really feel that his sense of purpose is lost. You spent the first ten minutes falling in love with the concept and characters and understood where he came from and his struggle to get back his role and we somehow empathizes with him. And I think they rerecorded the dialogue to make his less mean.
  • Galaxy Quest. Jason Nesmith was a self-centered ego-maniac who was oblivious to his crew’s plights and disdain for him. He had to learn to be less self-absorbed. The film opens with the crew really annoyed at how late he and complaining how he booked a gig without them. When he shows up he’s like there’s nothing wrong with him being late. And they almost all leave because of it. I can see how people who hate egos would really hate him, but I found it funny because everyone else was unnecessarily bitter toward him. He on the other hand was enjoying life, walking in happy, trying to cheer up the group and when it came to the convention, he loved the fans and knew every line from his TV show and spoke with his fans with love and knew how to entertain them. Then it was random haters who broke his spirits and we really felt his loss of identity. Then when he became commander of the ship, he went back to his crew to bring them along. He learned his lesson in a matter of two scenes and spent the whole movie proving that he had changed, not actually changing! In fact, it was everyone around him who were changing. Jason was becoming the hero he played on screen.
  • Happy Gilmore. God, he’s awful and violent: he attacked kids with his blades in hockey and shot nails into his boss’s head. But something about the opening scene was so charming and funny that we felt for him before we could hate him. The video made it feel like he’s just a big kid not a bully. Plus empathy was built when we learn that he grow up without parents and instead lived with his hilarious and loving old grandmother. And when it came time for motivation for his journey into golf, it was to save grandma’s house. A noble cause.

In these films where others argue the protagonist underwent a character arc from bad to good, I feel that the change was one aspect of their character and not their entire character. Often times a small chance is enough and most reasonable and most realistic in films.

I’ve also noted many films where the characters don’t change significantly and often times the films work just fine. Forrest Gump is one example. So is Armageddon, Speed, Broken Arrow, Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones 1… in fact, most good action heroes don’t change. They are action heroes because they had all the skills necessary to win at the outset of the picture.

In fact, many pictures DON’T have the leads change. Instead, they grow not from bad to good, but from good to mature. Examples include: Scream, Halloween, Terminator. Though these are all action/horror and seem like good to hero changes, not character arcs. They learn skills, not character.

In romantic comedies, it seems like characters often change or grow and mature. Like in high school films, often kids will start out with infatuations and learn how to love. In adult rom-coms, often one or more of the characters has to change to open himself or herself up to love. They must commit or take a chance or whatever.

In hidden-identity rom coms, like Wedding Crashers, You’ve Got Mail, or others, you usually get the change as the film progresses and the revealed identity breaks the trust which must then be re-earned.

On a related note, I’ll caution you about creating the despicable lead character for the sake of being the protagonist–a character whose action causes ALL of the conflict / plot in the film. If things happen to your character by chance, it’s not a story, it’s a dream. If instead your characters take action which force other things to happen which couldn’t or wouldn’t have happened unless they DID something, then your lead is a protagonist.

In Spielberg’s self-written classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the protagonist puts his own desires first and tears apart his family because of his obsession with the aliens. Furthermore he always makes things worse for all those around him. And by the end of the movie, he doesn’t even change (He leaves his family and the planet to board the space ship! What a selfish dick.) But at least he’s the protagonist in that his actions cause all of the conflict in the film. Every action he takes leads to the next scene and causes the next scene to happen. He’s always taking action and not letting things happen to him. So yes, he’s the protagonist, but a despicable one and one who doesn’t care enough about his family and marriage to actually communicate with them. His lack of communication make him look like a psycho, especially when he destroys his house to get to the mountain top.

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Jurassic World (Spoilers)

Let me preface this by saying I saw Jurassic World in perhaps the worst theater I’ve ever been in because all my friends bailed on me, and by the time they did, all the tickets were sold out for the only time of the day I had available, so I had to buy the tickets at a theater I never go to.  The 3D screen was terrible because I could see 30% of the second eye on the left side of the screen.  And there was no surround sound.  The only audio was from within the screen, which wasn’t even loud enough to startle me awake if I were falling asleep (I didn’t).  Plus I got in 6 minutes late, so I probably missed some exposition about where they were.  But I put it together that they were on one of the original islands, if not the original.  I do not believe the theater experience negatively affected my opinion of the story, but since I missed out on some exposition, and the surround sound experience, I feel like I didn’t get fully into any moment.

Here’s my general feeling about the movie:

If you go into the movie expecting to ignore the main adult leads (you know, the way we pretend Orlando Bloom wasn’t in Pirates of the Caribbean, or that Giles was never in Broken Arrow), and avoid comparison to Spielberg or John Williams, it’s a very entertaining blockbuster movie which would stand on its own merit if the others didn’t exist.

I thought it was fun and gave lots of good allusions to the first.  However, it was frustrating that IT WAS THE SAME DAMN PLOT, on crack.  Only this time, there were more guests, AND they were aware of the mistakes that were previously made.  Even so, they go ahead and create a new dinosaur, named Indomitus Rex — because four year olds would have trouble saying “Indomitable Rex”.  Oh, I’m sorry, she used another name … “Archeoencephalcochus” or something.   So obviously, it breaks loose, and they make bad decision after bad decision… you kind of Hammond’s nephew in Jurassic Park 2, or the screenwriter of Jurassic Park 3.

I enjoyed it a lot for the imaginative dinosaur scenes.  And the new Indomitus Rex is loaded with really neat monster abilities!

What frustrated me were some early plot-holes, and the main characters’ inability to feel any emotion from joy to fear, sorrow, or aggression.  The two adult leads were a beautiful blonde in white wearing high heels, and a gruff velociraptor trainer who carries himself like a boy scout but responds to actions instead of taking charge.  The female lead is a perfectionist and a bitch about it who pawned her nephews off on some assistant (a nanny) she hired for that one day and had never met before.  The two have this weird relationship where he tries to break her callous shell.  But he wasn’t nearly charming enough for that.

So the movie goes through the motions, through neat little scenes with predictable outcomes (the dinosaur always wins) until its logical conclusion, which actually, I really appreciated.  The ending was surprisingly similar to the original Jurassic Park ending (hats off to ya!) with enough twists on it to keep it fresh.

Beyond plot, aesthetically, the thing I think was lacking most . . . was a good score.

There was no identifiable theme for any of the dinosaurs or characters.  There may have been one theme I liked and recognized twice, but I didn’t associate it with any character of moment in the movie.  The Jurassic Park theme came back once, when the boys stumbled across a hut with Jurassic Park merchandizing and equipment.  It was the piano cue which shot me back to the moment in the first movie when Hammond and Ellie are talking about the Flea Circus over ice cream.  At some point before or after that scene, the Jurassic Park piano theme played as it panned over the merchandise that would never be sold.  Maybe it was actually at the very end of the movie. Anyways, the old music in this scene in the new movie was so immediately powerful, that I realized I hadn’t recognized the music at all before or after that scene.

The other thing I noticed immediately, that I got over pretty quickly, but wanted again from time to time, was lack of Spielberg’s cinematic style.  This movie felt like a mix between epic helicopter shots and coverage.  Spielberg doesn’t do coverage for a talking scene.  The characters are moving or directing the camera to follow some motion.  The camera is moving.  The characters may talk over each other.

In action, you have action, dolly and pan, cut-on-action, dolly and pan, cut-on-action, dolly and pan.  You get foreground, rack focus to background.  You get foreground-background two shots.  You get characters running up to the camera and looking past it.

You get many things no director does any more.  And it’s a shame.

There some very Spielberg shots in The Rock, when Michael Bay was still young and he relied more on his more-experienced D.P., who happened to also D.P. Jurassic World – John Schwartzman. Nowadays, Michael Bay does three things:  long elaborate C.G. shots, spinning camera shots, and lots and lots of shorts shots with no panning.  I can’t tell exactly John Schwartzman’s influence on the movie, except to say it looked good?

Again, the whole movie just felt like coverage, with an epic scale.  At least the scale was spot on.  Lots of long shots juxtaposing massive animals with tiny humans.  Well done.  If you didn’t hook me with Spielberg-isms, you did well on the grandeur.  And the helicopter shots.  I loved every one of them – and there were lots!

 

A Commentary as The Plot Unfolds

So we follow the story of an over-worked female park manager who hires an assistant to watch her nephews who have flown all the way out to Costa Rica to spend two days with HER.  When her sister (the boys’ mom) finds out, she cries.  She doesn’t get angry, she cries that their aunt won’t even set aside time for the kids.  So the kids run away from the assistant and explore the park themselves.

Meanwhile, a non-chalant boy scout is demonstrating how he had trained a pack of velociraptors to mildly respond to his command – for the first time (well I assume so, because a co-worker says “You finally did it!”).  A military dude watches this demonstration and tells him basically “Tell me how to do it, so we can train them as bunker busters”.  Side note—this was one of my subplots for my own take on Jurassic Park, so I was pleased that they included it, but displeased that there was no tact to it at all!  He straight out said “Tell me how to do it, join me, or we’re doing it on our without you.”

So the kids run off to an orb ride, where there’s a glass sphere that rolls about Jurassic World in herbivore expanse.

The boy scout––okay, he’s not a boy scout, but he carries himself like a troop leader, with a voice like he’s barely out of high school––is brought in to assess the new dinosaur Indomitus Rex – who we haven’t seen yet.  He realizes there’s a large scratch on the wall, like it was trying to climb out.  They ask command where is the dinosaur.  The computer indicates it’s not inside!  So they assume it’s left the cage!  The girl gets in a car, and heads to the command center.  She phones them on the way and tells them to turn on the tracker on the Indomitus Rex.  Herein is annoying plot-hole number one.  Why would she leave the compound if she thinks the Indomitus Rex is out and about.  Wouldn’t she call from within the building?  And why don’t they have the tracker at the console that indicated the dinosaur was not in its cage?

Next, our boy scout and two or three workers enter the cage to inspect the scratches.  Annoying plot-hole number 2.  Why is he wasting his god-damn time inside the cage when the god-damned monster is out and about?!!  That’s not a hero to me!  That’s an idiot.  Besides the fact, he’s casually strolling about as if there’s not rush to be anywhere.

When the girl gets the command center to turn on the tracker, the tracker indicates that the dinosaur is actually in cage.  She has enough time to call our boy scout but only moment before the dinosaur rears its face.  They start running away, and the dinosaur chases after them.  All sense of scale and speed is lost because it appears that the dinosaur needs some time to catch up to them, even though they’re only about 50 feet away.  So he grabs one of the workers with his arms.  Not stunted t-rex arms, but long human-like arms with dino claws.

One of the remaining workers gets to the gate, and begins to open it up for himself.  Never mind that there is a giant dinosaur he would let into the park as he runs out the gate without shutting it.  He sort of turns back to shut it or maybe the boy scout does it after he runs out, but the dinosaur gets to the door and shoves it open.  Now it’s genuinely loose.

Now is an allusion to J1.  The worker who ran out first hides behind a car, and the dinosaur slowly creeps around to assess them car and him.  Meanwhile the boy scout cuts the oil line of the car he’s hiding under and douses himself in oil.  It calls to mind that earlier the girl made fun of him for smelling saying the Indomitus Rex has good smell. So after the dino eats the worker, he approaches the truck that the boy scout is hiding under, sniffs about and moves on.  I guess you can argue, he couldn’t see him under the truck, and he couldn’t smell him so he moved.  But when I saw the movie first, I thought he was blind like the t-rex and needed smell to guide him.  I think I’m wrong.

So then, he disappears into the park; the northern region, far from the populated areas.  Except that the rolling glass balls are free to roam in that area.

They all meet at the command center and the boy scout gets mad: how can you not know it’s in the pen?  “We use thermal sensors to detect where it is.” (Oh yeah, THAT’S a great idea!)  We mixed its genes with other reptiles and amphibians; it must have learned how to chamoflauge its heat signature.  (Oh yeah! THAT SOUND FEASIBLE!).  “Well that thing is really smart then.  It left those claw marks to make us THINK that it had escaped, so we would open the gates and let it escape.”  (Well, I don’t think that the dinosaur had that in mind – in fact, it is a very unlikely plan – so NO.  I’m not on board with that.)

Now what do we do?

We have staff trained to handle loose dinosaurs.  We’re smarter than Jurassic Park.  Our boys will go to work.
You’re going to kill it?

God no.  That’s a multi-million dollar asset.  We’re going to tranquilize it.

That’s a bad idea.  You beefed up this dinosaur, you won’t tell me what’s its capable of, and this girl doesn’t even know!  You’re sending those men to their deaths.

They’ll be fine.

Ok. I guess so. I’ll stick around here, and watch.

Sure enough, they get out there, find out it’s killing for sport, and that its tracking device has been clawed out! And while they’re look at the tracking device, the dinosaur attacks and kills them all.  No one gets a good shot off, and when they do, it’s not strong enough.

See?  Your men are gone.  You have evacuate this island.

No.  Let’s just move everyone inside.  We’d never re-open if we evacuated.

But people are going to die. (You should have told them “You’ll never re-open if people die! And they already have!”  I keep waiting for the hero to take charge.)

No.  We’ll find it in time.

To which I’m wondering how?  It’s got no tracker.  Your combat men are dead.  Aren’t you worried about your nephews?  Don’t you know about Jurassic Park?

Moving on.  Now the boys in their glass ball find an opened door in the gate.  “They’re telling us to head back. Ride’s closed.”  “Come on, Let’s live a little.  Screw the rules.  We’re VIP.”  (Of course.)

Sure enough, they run into the Indomitus Rex.  Pretty awesome scene.  They barely survive.

The glass ball had a tracker, which the Aunt begs the Boy Scout follow – in his gas jeep.  But the boys have moved on – the tracks indicate they escaped.  The Aunt tries to be all rough and tumble, but comically comes off like a model (at least they’re self-aware).  I’m later told she went through the entire movie in high heels.  And she was wearing white.  As for our boy scout.  He’s not scared.  A little frumpy.  And completely passionless.  They sort of have chemistry, but I don’t see her or her character being interested in this guy because he doesn’t seem very commanding.  In fact, I’m surprised he’s still alive right now, considering the only weapon he has is a field rifle.  Maybe a handful of shots?

So here I am interested in which characters?

The boy scout who has to be told to take action.  Who wanders around in an “empty” cage as a killer dinosaur is on the loose.

The female lead who pawned her nephews on some assistant (nanny) she hired for that one day?  Who is a perfectionist and a bitch about it.  Who cannot emote the entire movie: joy, sorrow, or aggression.

The CEO/financial investor who was actually pretty cool and can-do; who is in town for the day (to see the Indomitus Rex), but is making all the bad calls?

The army guy who wants to train velociraptors but has the presence of Dan Akroyd?

Or the boys?  The boys.  Who just learned that their parents are getting divorced, whose Aunt abandoned them.  One of which is an angsty teenager; the other a know-it-all (or know-all-the-dinosaurs-all) upset with his parents’ break-up.

Then, the guys in charge load a gun to a helicopter and go chase after it.  There’s only two helicopter pilots on the island, and the one who flew in is missing – probably lost in the ride closures.  So the investor/CEO is the pilot.

They find it in the park, but it gets into an atrium, and lets the flying dinosaurs free.  They flood out of the area, crashing into the helicopter on accident, sending it crashing to the ground where it explodes.  Then for some reason, they continue on to the park and attack guests!!  Pretty awesome.  But something about crowd scenes lacked Spielberg’s style.  It felt very TV.  Almost just plain coverage.

So the movie moves along through predictable outcomes (the Indomitus Rex always wins) until its logical conclusion, which actually, I really appreciated.  The ending was surprisingly similar to the original Jurassic Park ending (touche!) with enough twists on it to keep it fresh.

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Inside Out Review Part 2 of 2

Spoilers in a Paragraph:

Every human has five emotions in their mind reacting to circumstances and encouraging emotional responses from a command center in the mind:  Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.  Riley moves to a new town where circumstances prevent Joy from being in control, Sadness takes over, then Sadness and Joy both disappear from Riley’s emotional canon, as her key personality traits are stripped from her (“Hockey”, “Friends”, “Family”, “Goofiness”), until she is emotionless and without identity, at which point it’s only Sadness that compels her to return to her family. The family listens to her concern (“I miss home”) and hugs her.  Apparently, listening to Riley vent is her catharsis (her emotional burdens are released from within her and into the world where they don’t (immediately) affect her). Then it’s the warm embrace that creates happiness — Joy.

So we spend at least the last 2/3 of the movie in the spiraling hopelessness of Riley losing her emotions and personality.  The “message” (if that’s what it was) or resolution comes in the last minute of the film.

The inciting incident is when Joy and Sadness lose control — they get sent away from the command center and have to find their way back, so for 2/3 of the movie, Riley falls apart.  She has no hope of happiness as long as Joy and her “core memories” are not in the command center, and circumstances indicate that all the losses of memory and of personality during this bout of depression (or emotional chaos) are permanent which feels pretty shitty when you’re watching it.  I guess her personality comes back (after all, it’s the core memories Joy carries around the whole movie), but you’re not told it will.  In fact, there’s the constant fear that Sadness will accidentally ruin those too.

The comedy comes in the midst of angst.  But overall, it wasn’t a “fun” movie, but a dramatic movie.

That said, I don’t think young kids even understand the story;  kids in grade school probably get the emotions as emotions and as characters (like Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse), but won’t realize it’s a psychoanalysis and won’t draw any societal lesson from it; kids in middle school and high school will realize it’s an analysis of the mind, BUT I don’t think they’re going to get anything out of it except to identify that if you lose your emotions, it’s up to random luck whether those emotions in your head will find their way back to command center.  For those who feel hopeless, they’ll feel more hopeless. Or maybe the movie will express their emotions for them.  Or maybe they’ll learn to talk about their emotions before they disappear.  I don’t know their reaction.

But this movie will be talked about.  With questions like “What’s the purpose of the movie?” and “What’s the message of the movie?”  Two very important questions that must be answered but aren’t.  And it’s one of the paradoxes of a story. Some stories are allegorical; they have a message and make it clear.  Most stories, however, are entertainment – with no message.  Then there’s “good” movies (still entertainment), which hold a mirror up to life (a mirror with an author’s filter) and say “here’s the worst of it. No comment. Figure it out.”  I want to say, it’s mostly “here’s the worst of it” with a brief moment of allegorical.

 

My Experience:

Let me preface this review by saying I had been forewarned about this movie.  I heard things like “it was a good movie, but there was some LONG sad parts.”  I expected that of Pixar because ever since finding Nemo, Pixar has erred on the side of drama, sadness, and loss to drive their plot, and little on imagination and wonder, which is in my opinion why Toy Story and Monsters Inc. are their two best movies (after Geri’s Game).  The person who was complaining about the long sad parts said “I’m fine with sad parts in movies, but that was sad for way too long.”

The first experience I had with the movie was the UK trailer, which was a 2 minute scene at the dinner table.  It was cute and imaginative.  It began with the mom asking the daughter “How was your day.”  When the daughter responds “Okay I guess”, the camera pushes into the mom’s head and we see a council of little creatures at a console.  They can see what mom sees.  They’re reacting to the scene dramatically.  Intuitively, it’s mom’s emotions.  They comment on the daughter’s response, reading into her response, “something’s up”.  Then they look to dad for help who, of course is thinking about sports (I’m so tired of this stereotype), and missed the cue. The scene goes on until the girl storms off (I think).  Typical teenage angst was my assumption.  But what is it going to be about?  Can they sustain a whole movie like Mystery Science Theater?  No way.  Then what?

Next I saw the US trailer #2, which was that 2 minute scene edited down, with titles and voice overs: “this is joy… this is anger… this is sadness…”.

Okay, so going into the movie, I know it’s about the emotions in your head.  However, my brother had warned me:  “The whole time, I couldn’t figure out if the movie was going to be about the girl, or the emotions in her head.  As it turned out, it really wasn’t either.  … As far as I could tell. ”  He also told me “It will make you cry,”  as if it wasn’t already obvious. It’s a Pixar movie.

Now, the movie.

It began with the daughter’s birth.  POV of the baby opening it’s eyes as it sees parents for the first time (probably not, actually, since both parents were standing up – so maybe they were grabbing their baby from the nursing center after birth).  “Joy” is in the console watching the view.  She explains what’s going on.  “This is Riley…. I’m joy…. At first it was just me and Riley.  We were so happy.”  I think the first memory was created.  A snapshot, and a glass ball rolls out.  The balls contains the snapshot replaying inside the glass (ala Minority Report).  “It was me and Riley forever.”  Then Riley starts crying.  Joy is confused and looks to the console – Sadness has pressed a button.  “Well, for eight seconds.”

 

Then they go on collecting other emotions, and showing the creation of new memories.  Joy explains “core memories” which form Riley’s personality and create the worlds of “Goofiness” “Friendship” “Family”, “Hockey”, etc. .  Joy explains each emotion and why it exists:

I’m “Joy”. I make Riley happy.

“Fear” makes Riley careful, and keeps her from hurting herself (Fear makes Riley slow down to analyze a lamp chord and walk cautifously around it – she knocks it down anyway).

“Disgust” keeps Riley from poisoning herself.  Disgust gives her a negative reaction to Broccoli.

“Anger” appeals to Riley’s sense of fairness.  When dad tells her she can’t have something, Riley yells “That not fair!” and storms off.

And this is “Sadness”.  I don’t know what she does.

Boom.  That one hit hard.  I interpreted this as “Sadness is a useless emotion”.  This could be a feel-good movie then, about conquering sadness.  But I’m told it’s really sad and depressing… Hmm.. How?

Note that each emotion is color coded:

Disgust is green.

Anger is red.

Sadness is blue.

Fear is like a teal.

Joy is yellow.   Except Joy is only one with a dash of another color.  She has blue hair.  I don’t know why.  My theory is that they wanted a color to balance the glowing yellow creature they had created and blue is the complimentary color.  Then they thought, in order to justify themselves, well since the whole story is going to be sadness vs joy, maybe it’s appropriate to add some Sadness to Joy.  To say you can’t have one without the other.  But I didn’t think of any of this until after the movie – so ignore it for now.  And you didn’t hear that about the plot.

So after the growing up montage and teaching you the world mechanics, Riley finds herself in an over-packed car, moving to San Francisco.

And the hard knocks begin. And they don’t let up…. until the very … last … moment … of the movie.  But we don’t know this yet, and it isn’t the inciting incident.

In the car, Riley Fears the move. The car ride is too long; she gets angry.

Upon arrival, she sees the new house.  It’s a tiny two-story town home crammed between other town homes.  (Disgust).

Riley sees her new bedroom – the attic room.  There’s dust and garbage everywhere.  And a dead rat.  Disgusting.  Joy always tries to recover the moment by thinking positively.  Hey, clean slate; you can decorate!  Riley imagines her room decorated.  She’s happy again.  She runs downstairs to the moving van, BUT…. “Uh oh, the parents look stressed.”  Dad: “The moving van isn’t going to arrive until Thursday” (a few days out).  “Great,” she thinks “now I have to go to school with old clothes.  I won’t have anywhere to sleep….”  But Joy is persistent.  What if?  Yeah…. Joy puts a lightbulb into the console.  Riley crabs a hockey stick and a crumpled piece of paper and plays hockey around the new living room, scoring a goal around her dad into the fireplace.  They go for another round, and mom joins in.  A new memory is formed – a happy one.  Only, as it’s rolling down, dad gets a call, cutting her play short.  Dad has to go to the office immediately.  Dad takes off, and Riley thinks about the pizza place she passed on her way there.  Riley and mom head to pizza, but she gets BROCCOLI on her pizza.  Yuck!! (It was funny, but kind of messed up at the same time).

It’s probably a good point to ask yourself what’s going on here?  It appears that every character is autonomous, yet connected.  Riley performs her own actions and makes decisions without her emotions.  HOWEVER, her emotions control her reactions to moments.  Then there’s the memories.  They generate spontaneously.  Most of them are happy.  They’re color coded too.  Most of them are yellow, with spots of the other colors.  What makes it hard to talk about, though, is that Joy and Riley are both autonomous characters, so I find it a challenge to use pronouns like “she” and “her” without explicitly naming the character.

So then Riley goes to school. Where she is asked to introduce herself.  She says she’s from Minnesota.  The teacher says, “oh then you must like the weather here.”  Riley laughs and goes on to explain how she loves the winters.  We (including the emotions) see her memories.  In the winter, the lake freezes over and she ice skates and plays hockey, and every year her hockey team makes it to the finals – MADE it to the finals.  She stops and realizes none of it is going to happen anymore.

The emotions are concerned.  Why did she stop?  Then the screen turns blue.  What’s going on! They turn around, and spot Sadness touching the memory.  It turns from yellow to blue.

“What have you done?!” Joy exclaims.  “That’s a core memory!” She tries to rub the memory herself to change it back.  To no avail.

Sadness apologizes, and leans on another core memory.  It begins to turn blue.  “Stop it!  Back away!”

Riley starts crying in class.

Later that day (or week), she tries out for the hockey team, but messes up because she’s still not very happy.  That makes her angry, and she storms off.  The “Hockey” world (a floating island off in the distance, connected by a thin bridge, over an abyss (explained as the dump where memories never return)) begins to turn gray and stops moving.  Hockey – one of her key personality traits — is dead to her now.

After that, she video-chats with a friend from home–who has found a new friend.  In anger, she shuts her out.  Her “Friend” world turns gray.  This is bad.  This is all happening so quickly!  Her “Friend” core memories are turning blue because Sadness is touching them.  They’re getting sucked into long term memory through a vacuum chute, and Joy tries to stop it.  But then Sadness and Joy gets sucked in, and go into an area on the other side of the abyss, beyond the worlds, into the a massive library of memories.  When they land they look back at the console, across the abyss.

Sadness explains the situation:  “This is bad.  I’m sorry Joy.  Without you at the console, Riley can’t be happy.  We have to get you back.”

When you look at the distance they have to travel and the challenges they faced, the trek to Mordor came to mind.

This was the inciting incident.

Joy spends the rest of the movie traveling through long term memory, imagination land, dream productions, the train of thought, and the abyss…. While Riley’s remaining world’s fade to gray, crumble and fall into the abyss, and the console fails to function for the remaining emotions.

This sounds like clinical depression.  Except without sadness.  It’s beyond sadness.  She can’t feel anything anymore. She’s numb.  But she can still reason, and she reasons that all her good memories were in Minnesota, so she’s going back.

So at the end of the movie, Riley is finally on a bus, running away – back to Minnesota.  She has no emotions, and Joy has finally made it back to the console with Sadness.

For some reason, Joy realizes that Joy isn’t the correct emotion for this moment.  It’s Sadness.  She tells Sadness to take control right now.  So Sadness presses the button and it works for her.

Riley suddenly feels sad and bails on the bus.  She gets off and goes home.

At home, her mom and dad are concerned for her.  She apologizes that she can’t maintain a positive attitude (because her mom thanked her for handling the move so well on the first day of the move).  They say, “it’s okay, we know the move was tough.”  Then Sadness presses the button again, and Riley starts crying.  “I just want to go back to Minnesota.”  Her parents hug her and tell her it’s going to be okay.  In this embrace, the camera pushes into her face, and she breaks a small smile.

THE END.

You see, only a few scenes before, Joy needed to motivate a fading childhood memory – a character who was their guide through the latter part of the journey.  Joy couldn’t convince him to get moving because all was lost, but Sadness just listened to him, complain about his loss, and he almost immediately felt better.  Joy was surprised and asked Sadness “how’d you do that?” “I don’t know.  I guess I just listened to him.”

So long story short,

Riley moves to a new town where circumstances prevent Joy from being in control, Sadness takes over, then Sadness and Joy both disappear from Riley’s emotional canon, as her key personality traits are stripped from her (“Hockey”, “Friends”, “Family”, “Goofiness”), until she is emotionless and without identity, at which point it’s only Sadness that compels her to return to her family. The family listens to her concern (“I miss home”) and hugs her.  Listening to Riley vent is her catharsis (her emotional burdens are released from within her and into the world where they don’t (immediately) affect her). Then it’s the warm embrace that creates happiness.

Then the movie is over.

How fun.

Don’t get me wrong:  there was some very imaginative things, and lots of funny moments, but overall, the outlook of the film was very dismal.  Unnerving even.

Starting about 20-30 minutes into the movie, the movie made it clearer and clearer that there was NO HOPE.  Even Joy appeared to be a skeleton of her former self for most of the movie (for the entire journey from long term memory).  Memories were lost and her core personality traits disappeared.  “Forever!”  And even though I think the worlds returned at the end of the movie (for a minute, to resolve the movie), there was no indication that they would.

So it sounds like a visualization of a depressed mind, void of hope, telling people that they should be sad, and talk to their family about what’s making them sad.

IT OFFERS NO SOLUTIONS.

I’m sure the author believes “The solution is talking about it.”  I think that’s half-assed.  I can write a real good god-damned imaginative visualization of depression, and I could probably win an Oscar for it, BUT without offering a method for helping the depression, and displaying the solutions in action, repeating the techniques so one can learn to modify cognitive behaviors, it would just be another useless Oscar winning movie.  In fact, I’d argue, if it did offer success techniques – it would NOT win an Oscar.  Inside Out will.  But I guess it’s not hard.  It’s probably the only animated, kid movie that appears to have a message.

If I write a movie about people with good attitudes coming together to solve a problem, but butting heads about the solution,  and joyfully overcoming many obstacles along the way, Hollywood quickly dismisses it (*cough* Armageddon;  *cough* Independence Day; *cough* Speed).  Audiences love it, but acknowledge it as a “good” movie.  But if I make a movie about one conflict that can’t be resolved except for the very end, with lots of moments to dwell on disappointment, people think it’s a “good” movie.  Fuuuuck thaaaaat!

If I didn’t prep my brain for it – if I had come into the movie without a sense of what it would be – it certainly would have broken my emotional barrier and I would have been crying.  For no reason.  Tears that would bring literally NO GOOD to me.  Here’s where I’ll have you know: when I cry, my immune system drops, and for days, my eyes remain puffy, my body and muscles remain fatigued, and I’m depressed and in pain.  It doesn’t matter what makes me cry.

I DO NOT NEED THAT.  EVER.  PERIOD.

What I NEED is a feel-good movie about people with good attitudes, making good decisions, taking action joyfully, and in the long run getting rewarded for it all.

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“Inside Out” Review Part 1 of 2

Having not seen the trailers I thought I had no preconceptions or expectations of what the story would be about. The only things I knew of the film was that there are creatures inside the head of a human that control a human somehow and the name of the film was Inside Out. I had seen this idea before executed in the style of a Pixar animated film in the student project and an Oscar-nominated short film called Brain Divided. So I thought Pixar had bought the rights to make it into a feature film (since the short film was finished 2 years prior to Pixar’s picture). Even though I thought I knew nothing about the film, I actually knew–or should I say assumed–a lot. What I did know was that the film was about creatures-controlling-a-human-Avatar and it was called Inside Out. So the film must be about these creatures inside the head of this human breaking out of the head and entering the real world and struggling to survive. Working on such little information, it’s the only story I could imagine, but I knew to watch the film with an open mind. Unfortunately, this misconception tainted my experience. I ended up watching the whole film wondering, “why is it called Inside Out?” And to be fair, the film never gave an answer. Or at least not explicitly. I thought maybe it was that Joy and Sadness were pushed out of main control and into the brain area. So they used to be on the inside and now they’re out in the larger world of the brain. But that wasn’t good enough for me. It took me three whole days of thinking to finally figure it out.

By chance fortune I ended up reading an article by Ted Elliot, co-writer of Aladdin, Mask of Zorro, The Pirates franchise and others, called Title Search written over a decade ago. In the article, he analyzes what makes a good title for selling a spec screenplay. It’s part marketing (simple, less than five words to fit on a marque, catchy, and suggests the whole premise/primary source of conflict—and sometimes the film’s message) and part inevitability (which is more complex and artistic: it feels as if there could be no other title because the film’s premise/conflict/message are summed up in the title so perfectly while still have a nice original or clever ring to the words used). He gave the example of Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. Both films suggest what the film is about and its core conflict: fighting ghosts and getting back to the future. He also argues that good film titles are also an art. Sometimes you get film titles like “Hobo with a Shotgun” and “Snakes on a Plane” which sum up the film and its core conflict but feel like exploitation films (though this is arguably the primary marketing pitch).

It made me question harder if Pixar was going full marketing and forgetting the artistic edge of a good title that sums up the core conflict and the film’s message. After contemplating it deeply I figured it out: It’s called Inside Out because there are emotions in your head and sometimes, you have to let them out. Sometimes (often times) it’s healthier to express those feelings rather then bottle them up and keep them on the inside. You have to let your the voices in your head out. Holy crap. I think I got it, but that took some work! Plus I needed to watch the whole film and quickly understand (as a mature adult) the moral of the film (preteen kids didn’t get it, my theater was full of kids asking what was going on when the girl was crying at the end of the film). A good title feels inevitable after watching the film, but it’s supposed to also feel like it couldn’t be called anything else. The title did not suggest to me anything close to “let your emotions out.” In fact, Inside Out is so generic that you can’t glean anything from it, but it’s a nice catch phrase that everyone can recognize (it has that ring to it that you can’t explain) and from a marketing stand point the name alone is worth $10 million at the box office. Hell, it got me in theaters!

But when it came time to make the trailer, someone in marketing didn’t get the memo. Wait, let’s be fair, a team of marketing experts recognized that marketing “let your feelings out” is not marketable (to be fair, they possibly worried if it would ruin the poignancy of “getting the film” or tread on the territory of being too “Oscar-grabby” or “sappy”). So they went with the catch phrase: “We all have little voices in our head. … blah-blah-blah-blah-blah… See the world from the inside out.” Wow! What a cop out! But all the power to them. Having watched the trailer (only after watching the film first) I can see the overarching story and primary conflict of the film much more easily than actually watching the film: the voices inside this girl’s head lose some core memories and must get them back to headquarters. Even the name of the film is explained, albeit in a lackluster fashion: “See the world from the inside out.” Had I watched the trailer, I would have had a much greater appreciation of the film. I would have been able to recognize where the film was going and not wonder 15-20 minutes into the film (I checked my watch) what the inciting incident was. Then I would have been able to keep watching the film not second-guessing if the film was simply about getting the core-memory MacGuffins back to headquarters. I would have been able to appreciate the film more deeply when I found the “second meaning” of the film.

Unfortunately, I didn’t watch the trailer. I assumed correctly that the primary source of external conflict was getting those MacGuffins back to headquarters, but I guess I missed that the filmmakers only did that for the kids and the primary source of inter-personal and intra-personal conflict was Joy and Sadness. To be fair I did recognize that, but I thought the filmmakers were using it more as a motif to evoke good scene dynamics than a character arc. I was too distracted by the MacGuffin (and its significance on the brain) and assumed that the filmmakers had chosen to put no thought into what they wanted to say about emotions. I thought that the whole Joy being in control and placing Sadness in her little circle of isolation was a flippant joke and not the point of the film until the very end (though that instance made me know that the filmmakers were fully aware of what they were doing). Instead of making me laugh, my stomach churned when Joy drew a circle around Sadness and scooted her foot back inside the circle. I felt sick because kids and some adults were laughing when I was like: THAT’S F**KED UP! I couldn’t tell if the kids were getting it or if it was harming them by reinforcing twisted ideas they might have had toward someone as “annoying” as sadness. And when Joy was dragging sadness along the floor, I felt that kids were laughing at Sadness, while I was feeling pity for her. Sadness to me was an accurate physical embodiment of a really depressed person, so when kids were laughing at her (with the guidance of the filmmakers) I felt like I was being attacked. Well, not me personally (well sort of), but my close relatives and nobody laughs at the pain of my siblings! Unfortunately, this pervaded the movie. Joy was being overly effervescent and Sadness was being depressing in a laugh-at manner. It felt like depression and over-optimism was simple laughing fodder for kids and a source of uncomfortable laughter for adults who need to release some feeling through laughter. I couldn’t laugh because I was worried where the film was headed. The hardest I laughed was at an anger joke which shocked me because I burst out laughing loudly but nobody else was laughing so I quickly stopped. I was made aware of that disparity between me and the audience and immediately realized, damn, I really needed to vent some of these emotions huh? I guess since I wasn’t allowing myself to laugh at sadness and joy, I pounced on the first unexpected joke available.

Eventually the film ended but the message was obfuscated by the memory balls becoming mixed colors. It wasn’t clear if these mixed-emotion memories were more powerful or just different (or ‘normal’ as others would say who feel the message is simply ’emotions are normal’ ). If they were just different/normal, then it was as anti-climactic as it felt. In fact, the whole Pixar-science of the brain was confusing and I couldn’t map any allegory to the film-science created so I was left confused and emotional at the end of the film. The film brought up many emotions I was feeling and got me to cry and feel bad, but it never made me feel good. I’m not one to recommend a film to anyone that will make them cry and feel sad and maybe laugh a few times, then leave the theater confused and disappointed. I’m not one to intentionally make people cry. Even if I thought there was a lesson to be learned, but this film didn’t provide any clear cut lessons or teach kids anything. At least it wasn’t so obvious that a lug-nut like myself could figure it out without digging really deep. It was more of a reflection of life and those mature enough to get it relate on one level and appreciate it and those too immature relate on another more immature level and are able to laugh at the characters in the film. And if you’re mature enough to get the nuances, you’re probably going to cry, which really is just some wicked form of catharsis.

And I wasn’t even left with hope, which is the unwritten promise of all Disney, Pixar, and “Hollywood” films. The ‘hope’ provided at the end of the film was two pronged (because there were essentially two stories running throughout the film) but I didn’t latch on to either. The first was that the family unit was going to get better and so will everything else in the girl’s life, and the second was that the emotions inside her head are learning and maturing. But then they cut to the emotions of other creatures and established how every person has a similar set of emotions but some are off-duty or lazy or become more like one of the others. Even cats and dogs, and dumb dads. Huh? It opened up a whole nother can of worms. It left me confused again! That wasn’t what I needed! More questions?! Well maybe it was because it wasn’t sadness, anger, or fear. I was still frustrated and sad about the ending that I needed the time in the theater to compose myself so I could drive my date back home. And she also needed that time. But it wasn’t something we wanted to talk about after we left the theater. Instead I went home confused and grumpy and resolved to myself that I would compose my ideas and write my review later when I’ve “figure it all out” so I don’t look like a rambling idiot. In hindsight, I guess it was more than just sadness I was feeling. It was anger that people could think that making me feel this way was appropriate and necessary; and it was a bit of fear that I was alone in the way I thought; and fear that perhaps their message or execution (though well intended) could actually be damaging (like laughing at depression instead of trying to help them and taking the time to learn how). Of the five emotions in the film (joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust—is disgust really a core emotion???) the only emotion I wanted out of the film was Joy and nostalgic/happy sadness, but all I got was depressing sadness (flashback triggers even), anger, and fear (I don’t even know what disgust even means as an emotion, it’s it fear of an attack on one’s identity?).

And now I’m here actually talking about the film and what it means. Isn’t that what the filmmakers wanted? Here I am psycho-analyzing my experience. Here I am trying to convince you, the reader, that I’m right. That my opinion and my feelings were justified. I left the theater sad, angry, and confused, but that’s okay right? I’m supposed to express my feelings, not bottle them up. But I really feel that I’m writing this as a defense mechanism. I really wanted to say “I didn’t like Inside Out” after seeing the film, but I feared harsh criticism and judgment from my peers. I feared what that statement might mean to others who are “more mature” or “more knowledgeable in psychology” than myself. Hell, I even feared that I’m wrong and immature without knowing it. I wanted to express my feelings, but I also knew that there is a time and place for doing so. The time wasn’t right after leaving the theater and the place wasn’t Facebook. I’m mature enough to know the first thing I needed to do when leaving that theater (to take care of my mental health) was to change state as fast as possible. I couldn’t explain my state but I knew eventually I’d be able to, so let’s forget this film and talk about our plans for the night. Oh, play card games! Sounds like fun! This is no time to feel angry, depressed, afraid. I’ll have to deal with them eventually, but not now. And the thing that gets me is that two hours earlier, I would not have needed to deal with those feelings. But now I did, because I couldn’t let the sadness take over my life (but I shouldn’t bottle it up), and I couldn’t let the fear consume me (but I didn’t know what I was afraid of). And this is why I recommend against watching this film. To play devil’s advocate though, this is one of the reasons I avoid “Oscar” nominated films. They affect me physically and psychologically (negatively) long after viewing the film. You may be different. You might be able to bounce back from crying in two seconds. You may also be able to watch it with the proper framework, and thus it might not affect you as much as it did me and you can handle things intellectually as opposed to being broken down emotionally first.

For all of those reasons and more, my review of Inside Out is a 1/5. It’s a very personal 1/5 but I also had problems with the story, characters, clarity of the world, and Inception-style explanations of story solutions. The one point of of five came solely from the message they were trying to put on screen: when you’re eleven, it’s okay, normal, and healthy to express your feeling…it can make your relationship with your parents stronger and make you a more complete healthy stable person.

Last minute thoughts: Perhaps, it’s trying to break the stigma of mental health. It’s okay to have and express multiple emotions. Unrelated, leaving the theater, I felt that I cried because I was watching a dog get beaten to death or saw a baby fall off of an elevator and die. Sometimes maybe I cried because I felt that loss of innocence or that nostalgic forgotten sadness feeling. But I think mostly I was crying because I felt so uncomfortable. I probably even cried because I was sad that this is the way the filmmakers felt she (or even the audience) had to learn things. I felt that air of pretension breathing down on me as I cried and couldn’t explain why. That experience was bullshit. Having said all of this and having put my work out in the real world, I realize that this negative review only peaks your interest more. If you’re looking to cry and can laugh at Joy being a complete dick to Sadness throughout the film (it’s okay…it’s all just part of her character arc) then go see the film. If you’re looking for an inspirational, uplifting film and don’t want to get brought down, avoid this film. People who buy this film are doing it to allow themselves to cry or feel nostalgic again, not to bring up their spirits. If given the choice between watching Monster’s Inc. and Wall-E, if you put in Wall-E, go see this film. Otherwise, avoid this film. It provides nothing magical, wonderous, fun, or endearing. It uses science-fiction to create darker drama, not open up the mind to infinite possibilities.

 

 

 

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