Why I Sell Beauty and the Beast Table Read Clip!

This morning I was greeted by throngs of notifications about the great new exciting clip from the Beauty and the Beast live action film. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- this movie could be amazing. I hope it is but honestly I’m kind of upset about it right now. I hated the images of Lumiere and Cogsworth- especially Lumiere where you can’t see his face and he’s all rugged looking instead of smooth. He’s a candlestick which limits his expression as it is. We don’t need anything obscuring that expression.

Anyway, so what I was presented with today is a clip from the table reading. I guess I was supposed to be excited like the table read for Star Wars: Force Awakens which had Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and others coming back to Star Wars. Unfortunately this table read not only didn’t excite me, it kind of ticked me off.

Force Awakens had a reason to be made. A large majority of people didn’t like the prequels and felt Star Wars hadn’t been good for a long time. And despite some similarities to previous films Force Awakens was a continuation of the story not a remake. With this Beauty and the Beast I’ve long scratched my head at why this needs to exist? Why when it is already been perfectly executed do we need a remake of the film?

Disney just gave me their answer and it kind of makes me mad…

Bill Condon says “When something is so perfect why get near it? The answer is technology has caught up with the ideas that were introduced in that movie”.

Are you kidding me?

This is basically Disney saying that the 2D animation that made them great isn’t a fully realized version of their great ideas. That they were restricted and now technology has expanded they can finally do their ideas justice.  You know what? Those ideas were done justice. I never watched Beauty and the Beast and thought ‘boy if only they had greater technology this could be executed better.”

The Jungle Book gave us a new version of the Kipling story and the technology worked for that version of the story. If Condon had said “we now have the technology to tell a new take on the ideas” that would have been one thing but for him to say that “technology has caught up with the ideas” it makes me really mad. It says to me Disney sees 2D animation as quaint and old fashioned and technology/CG as a better way to execute the ideas of the past! Urgh!!!

I can’t be the only person in the world that was annoyed by this comment? And the fact Disney would use that quote to sell this movie is really discouraging and shows a lack of respect for the great artistry done in the 1991 film. It was certainly a good enough execution of the ideas to get the first animated Best Picture nomination and it was good enough to entrance millions of viewers.

Howard Ashman wrote and worked on Beauty and the Beast literally on his death bed. It is a masterpiece and a labor of love in every way I can think of. It was good enough to make AFI’s Top 10 Romantic Movies of all times list. Good enough to be many people’s favorite animated film including current CG films.

But I’m glad technology has finally caught up with Disney’s ideas of the past….

angery beast

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Why Can’t Something New Be a Masterpiece?

old vs new

There’s no denying 2016 has been an underwhelming year for movies, particularly blockbuster films. However, there have been some wonderful films like any other year. We live in an era of hyperbole where something has to be a masterpiece or trash and little in between. I fall victim to that line of thinking as much as anyone else.

However, recently I have been thinking about the push-back we sometimes give on classics over modern films. For example, I think that Zootopia is the best non-musical from Disney since 101 Dalmatians. (Sorry Wreck-it Ralph fans but that’s what I think). Some people didn’t like the movie as much as I did and that is fine but some people seem to take an affront to the very idea a modern film being considered with classics like 101 Dalmatians. Why?

Is it beyond the possibility of consideration that Disney could release a film today that is on par with the quality they used to release? Why is what has come before inherently better than what we produce now? In my Pete’s Dragon review I said that it reminded me of movies like Black Stallion and Old Yeller. It may not be quite as good as those movies but it did remind me of them. It may not have for others but this is just my opinion. Part of what I liked about it so much is we don’t see many films like it these days, and I thought it was so well executed for the type of movie it was trying to be. Those movies are not perfect either so I don’t see the comparison as a problem.

I saw this last year where friends loved Ex-Machina. I liked it but it didn’t make my top 10. However, I have no problem with a friend who listed it in his top 100 movies ever made. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t a new science fiction movie be as good as your Blade Runner or Terminator? Sure those movies have time to marinate and debate but I don’t think they are inherently better than something we could produce today.

Let’s take Rogue One as an example. Let’s just say it is spectacular. It could suck. I have no idea. There are people no matter how great it is wouldn’t put it over any of the original trilogy. Why? Nostalgia is part of it but I also think some film fans just think old=better and they don’t allow for the idea of a new classic. Star Wars: the Force Awakens is my favorite Star Wars movie. Some freak out about that but I think it took everything the original trilogy did right and improved upon it. Made it better. It’s not a perfect movie but as I say neither are the originals.

Some people like the new Jungle Book better than the old one. I disagree but I have no problem with their view. To me they are close.

Let’s use Moana as an example. Let’s just say it is also spectacular. There are some that no matter how great it is would never put it with the Renaissance classics like Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Part of that is probably a bias towards 2D animation but I’d like to think Disney is as capable of producing a masterpiece today as they were in 1990. Yet for some no matter how good it is they will never give it such high praise.

I think part of it is we don’t tend to nitpick the classics the way we do current films. Hate to break it to you folks but the original Star Wars trilogy for example are not perfect.  I love them but they aren’t perfect. Same with the Disney Renaissance films.

Just because it is old doesn’t mean it is inherently better and I have no problem saying that!

I think Sing Street is as good if not better than anything John Hughes ever did. Shock! Scandal! Sorry it’s true.

I think Love and Friendship is better than Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and may be my favorite Jane Austen adaptation.

I think Mad Max Fury Road is better than the original Mad Max.

I think Inside Out is better than Finding Nemo, Incredibles, Wall-e and Toy Story 2 and 3.

I think Frozen is better than Aladdin

I think Dark Knight is much better than Tim Burton’s Batman.

I think Rescuers Down Under is a million times better than The Rescuers

I think Spotlight is better than All the President’s Men

I think Prince of Egypt is better than The 10 Commandments

I liked the new Ghostbusters about the same as the old one.

You can debate with me about specific films.  What I am objecting to is the seeming impossibility of a ‘new classic’. Why is that such a problem for people? Do we not still have creative minds at work and is there not still the potential for greatness?

I remember when Richard Roeper said Forgetting Sarah Marshall was one of the top 20 comedies and people freaked out. I haven’t seen that film so can’t say but why can’t he see a comedy now and think it is one of his top 20 favorites? What’s wrong with that? Is it an impossibility that someone could find a modern comedy as funny as the classics?

What are some movies you feel are modern masterpieces and live up to or surpass classics in their genre? I don’t even know if I am making any sense but do you see what I am saying? Do we have a tendency of putting classics on an untouchable pedestal current movies can never reach? Are they inherently better? Why?

Anyway, I know this is rambling but just something I have been pondering. I would love your insight and feedback.

ps. Something is also not inherently better because it was released by Criterion (they released Armageddon…) but that’s a post for another day.

Is Film More Art or Literature?

filmI’ve been thinking about something today and I wanted to throw it out to you guys for discussion. Lately I’ve seen a lot of bad movies and it’s got me asking  question-

Is film more art or literature? With some of these bad movies it’s tough to make the case they are either (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler!), but some like Alice Through the Looking Glass have decent artistry but are still failures. So it got me thinking…

Let me lay out the arguments on both sides.

The Case for Art

There’s obviously a visual component to film which places it in the art category. Photography is clearly art and film is basically moving photographs. However, there are very few films that can exist on the strength of the art itself. Don’t you think art needs to be somewhat self-sustaining?  Like when I go to a museum and see a statue I don’t need lots of text about said statue to appreciate the art. It’s a beautiful statue. I look at it and know that to be a fact.

However, with film that is usually not the case. With the exception of a Fantasia or a Terrence Malick film, a movie must be more than just pretty images to be appreciated and enjoyed. You could have the most beautiful imagery ever put to film and if the story is weak the art is a failure. I can’t think of any other artistic medium where that would be the case.

Perhaps you could make an argument that ballet is a visual art that requires context but even then I think the individual dancers mastery can be appreciated in a ballet. I certainly appreciate Gene Kelly’s artistry in his ballet in Singin’ in the Rain that has nothing to do with the plot.

All that said, when I think of my favorite movies the artistry is so obviously there- especially in animation. A film like the Little Mermaid had a million bubbles drawn by hand. How can that not be art? But then again I certainly have favorites like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail which aren’t significant art films.

But I look at something like this it is so clear- film is art:

The Case for Literature-

Let’s be honest how often do we get a Tree of Life, a film which is so clearly art?  Most of the time it is much more muddled and commercial. There is a strong case that film is much more literature than art.

If you think about it the basis of most movies is literature- a script or screenplay that tells a story. Most people don’t consider a play art and yet how is that different from a movie? Sure the sets might be considered art in a play but not the play itself.

Most movies require dialogue and a story to be effective. You can have the most beautiful imagery and if the story isn’t good most of the time the imagery won’t be appreciated.

Many people would consider one of the great American movies to be Paul  Thomas Anderson’s There Will be Blood. While there are many striking moments in the movie most of the gripping scenes involve the dialogue and the insane performance from Daniel Day Lewis. Look at this scene. It’s just 2 men talking in a simple room:

Combo Films

Of course you have those films that are so clearly a merging of both art and literature.  I think that is why so many people loved Birdman. It satisfied the artistic impulse with the long tracking shots and visual style while having a story that many could relate to with its critique of superhero fandoms and celebrity. (I am not a Birdman fan but I did like this aspect of it).

But I think most of us lean more to one side or another- we see movies as art or we see them as storytelling. This impacts our enjoyment of certain films that lean more heavily to one side or another. I personally tend to see it more as art, so a movie like Boyhood doesn’t have a complex narrative it doesn’t bother me. I focus on the small moments and the way the images are teaching me about life rather than fixating on the everyday story.

I certainly can appreciate a dialogue heavy film but if I had to pick one side I’d go with art. Of my favorite movies (Up, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Little Mermaid are my top 3) they aren’t the most amazing stories in the world but the characters and artistry I love.

You might not think it matters but I think it does. It impacts what films we are likely to see and appreciate. Again Boyhood is an example. Last year’s Carol or The Revenant also come to mind being artistically bold but not the greatest stories I’ve ever heard. Even a movie like Avatar, those who see film as art are more likely to appreciate it than those on the literature side. Wall-e is another film that those with more artistic interests tend to appreciate more than plot-driven moviegoers.

We could even make that argument with this year’s superhero  movies. Those who see film as art more likely to go with Batman v Superman. In contrast, those that see film as literature more likely to go with Captain America: Civil War with it’s witty dialogue.

What do you think? Is film art or literature? What side do you land on?

How to Fix Alice in Wonderland

Recently a lot of people enjoyed my piece on ‘How to Fix Superman‘ and I was thinking about it in regards to 2 movies I saw this weekend- X-Men Apocalypse and Alice Through the Looking Glass. I didn’t like either film and started wondering about what  would I do to make them better. X-Men is kind of an easy question because they already made a near perfect X-Men film in X-Men Days of Future Past. Just do that again…But Alice, now that got me thinking. How would I change Alice and make it work for a modern audience? Let me lay out it out for you:

1.Use the books!

Mockturtle_tenniel None of the Alice in Wonderland films have done particularly well at using the actual Lewis Carroll novels. The 1951 animated film is certainly the closest but it cuts out a ton of the characters and scenes in the book.  For example the Duchess and her entire plot with Bill the Lizard is eliminated.

Naturally you have to take things away when doing any adaptation but it would be nice for once to see a very close telling of Carroll’s book. In Disney’s animated version they bring in incidents like the Walrus and the Carpenter which is in Alice Through the Looking Glass and leave out the Mock Turtle and other good stuff in the Adventures in Wonderland book, so there is time to include more from each book.

The reason I think this would be a great fix to Alice in Wonderland is it would feel new while still being authentic to the world of the story. One of the many problems in Alice Through the Looking Glass is the new characters they invented (movie has nothing to do with its titled book) felt extremely generic.  There certainly wasn’t anything nearly as creative as a gryphon or Mock Turtle.

Alice in Wonderland is great because it is unpredictable. It has little plot but it constantly surprises the reader with a new creature, idea or joke (more on that later). This makes the book charming and the animated film captures this appeal but it could be expanded upon.

2. Embrace the Nonsense

alice in rabbits houseOne of the best things about the animated Alice in Wonderland is the embrace of nonsense. I love when Alice says “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

This quote does something that Over the Rainbow does for Wizard of Oz. It gives a reason for our heroine to be seeking another world and then when she lands there let her be dazzled by the nonsense.  There is no need to explain why the Red Queen has a large head like they do in the latest film. We don’t need a story about the Hatter’s family. We simply want Alice to meet a lot of fun creatures and get home at the end. It’s as simple as that.

Nonsense at its core should be unpredictable while exposition and dopey plots are not. Alice doesn’t work unless it is unexpected.

3. Embrace the Humor of the Book

alice 1933-2One of the things the 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland gets right is the wicked humor in Carroll’s writing.  When I recently read his books I was surprised how much I laughed. It’s a kind of absurdist humor and can be very dark but that is part of its charm.

For example, I love when the Duchess’ baby turns into a pig.  This is not only funny but wickedly grotesque in a way.  Either way it is unexpected and once again that’s what we need in a new Alice.

Other funny characters can include- Cheshire cat, Mad Hatter, The King,  Tweedledee and Tweedledum and more.

4. Do not ‘YA’ it up

fairytale retellingsOne of the absolute worst trends in recent literature has been the YA retellings of classic fairytales.  I blame Wicked but then Twilight took it to a new level with their ‘new take’ on classic vampire lore. These terrible novels almost always contain a love triangle and a mysterious heroine who is bland, bland, bland.

The 2010 Alice in Wonderland didn’t go the love triangle route but it tried to YA Alice with a bland heroine who is the chosen one and is going to set everything right. Maleficent certainly tried to follow this trend. Ugh. I hate it, hate it, hate it.  Every character somehow gets turned into this mopey, annoying, brooding teenage girl and you know what that is- boring!!!

Fairytales have somehow managed to appeal to people for hundreds of years without love triangles and chosen ones and all this YA nonsense messing them up. People hate on Frozen but at least it did a few things that were different and unexpected to most people.

5. Embrace More Realistic Style and Production Design

alice in wonderland hipsterWe’ve gotten 2 movies where we have CG’d our brains out in Wonderland. Let’s try something different.  What if instead of a totally synthetic world we embraced a Wes Anderson type of sensibility for our new Alice in Wonderland? What if it wasn’t actually a rabbit but a woman with rabbit ears? That would be intriguing and different? It could be more like the fairytales of the 1980s where the dialogue and costumes did the talking rather than the special effects.

Alice could still be in a new place and it could still be Wonderland but why does everything have to be new? Having a more subdued aesthetic to Wonderland might force writers to focus on the dialogue, which is where Alice in Wonderland should really shine anyway.

moonrise kingdom2You wouldn’t have to get Wes Anderson but he is such a great writer I would love to see him work on it. And I would love to get cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki involved and his famous long takes. How great would that be?

pans-labyrinth4Another film I would point them to for inspiration is Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. This is obviously a more horror take on a fantasy world but look how real the creature looks? Like you could reach out and touch it. How neat would it be for Alice to meet a character that feels so palatable and real?

del Toro obviously used CG and special effects in Pan’s Labyrinth but never in a way that takes you out of the movie. It’s too add flair rather than compensate for lazy writing. And most importantly it was something new and totally unexpected and again that’s what we need for Alice to work.

pans labyrinth bookIn conclusion, if I had was asked to pitch a new Alice in Wonderland here’s what I’d suggest:

Alice is a young girl in the 1950s who is bored with her strict parents and teachers. One day she stumbles upon a book in the library about a rabbit and his adventures in Wonderland. The next thing she knows she is in a version of her school but everything looks different- like it has been reversed. Some people have strange costumes on and she wonders if it is a special costume day and nobody told her.  Then she see’s a boy with rabbit ears on who looks scared.  He is rushing out of the school and she follows him into a strange woods. There she meets a variety of creatures and people, some of them funny, some nonsensical, some scary. Eventually she figures out her boredom is really her own fault and there are things she needs to be doing back in her regular life. She wakes up in the library with the librarian telling her class is dismissed. On to further adventures she goes ready to live a dynamic life!

Don’t kill me that it isn’t perfect but hopefully it gives you a flavor of the kind of story I think might work very well. Either way it would be something new and visually different than we have seen in Alice in Wonderland.  It would stick closer to the book, embrace the humor of the story and avoid all that YA crap.

What do you think? Am I on to something? What would you do to make Alice in Wonderland good again?

Over the Garden Wall is similar to the type of aesthetic and combination of humor/magic/realism that I think would be great.

Summer of Family Movies

Summer movies3

Recently I was going over the upcoming summer movie slate and trying to make my predictions on what will hit and miss at the box office. I’m notoriously awful at these predictions but it is fun nevertheless. While going over the releases it occurred to me how many family films are being released this summer. 2015 summer had 8 family films- Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World, Inside Out, Minions, Ant-Man, Fantastic 4, and Pixels. Some might count Mission Impossible 5 but I think that is a stretch. In comparison this year there are 4 just in May.

First let’s talk about the animated films. There are 5 (6 releases but Sausage Party  not family friendly.) These 5 are: Angry Birds Movie, Finding Dory, Secret Life of Pets, Ice Age: Collision Course, Kubo and the 2 Strings

Then we have comic book movies. I’m not counting Suicide Squad because I think that will be a pretty hard PG-13. There are 3 films: Captain America: Civil War, X-Men Apocalypse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows.

We have other live action family films. (I’m not sure about Warcraft family friendly status as I’ve never played the game). But here’s some of them that could attract a family audience:Alice through the Looking Glass, Ghostbusters, Independence Day: Resurgence, The BFG, Legend of Tarzan, Star Trek Beyond, Pete’s Dragon.

That’s 15 movies, almost double what we had in 2015 using basically the same criteria. Even if a few turn out to not be family films it’s still kind of amazing. That leads me to my next question- which will rise and which will sink?

I mean just Disney alone has 5 films within all of their brands and one of them has to strike out. Will it be Pete’s Dragon? Will it be Alice Through the Looking Glass? The BFG? That last one would make me sad because The BFG is the one non-sequel/remake of the group but the book is less well known than Roald Dahl’s others and it doesn’t have a big star like Johnny Depp or Robert Redford.

Other interesting films to look at is the nostalgia wars. Will Star Trek Beyond, Ghostbusters or Independence Day: Resurgence be this year’s Pixels or Terminator: Genisys to bomb at the box office or will they be huge like Jurassic World?

You have 2 video game movies with Angry Birds Movie and Warcraft that will be interesting to watch and 2 studios, Illumination and Liaka, trying something new with Secret Life of Pets and Kubo and the 2 Strings. Will audiences embrace new or flock to known properties like Ice Age Collision Course, X-Men Apocalypse and Finding Dory?

I’m really curious to see how it all plays out. What do you think? What will be the big hits and misses for family films 2016? Have I left something out? Let me know in the comments section. It’s all speculation so let’s have fun talking about it.

In Defense of Disney Women

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time but I have been so busy I didn’t have time to do it justice. Let me give it a shot. Recently over on a popular blog a woman wrote about 3 Disney female “role models’ that aren’t really deserving of that title”.  I want to add my two cents of why with all due respect I think she is wrong and that the 3 she has chosen are worthy characters to emulate in many ways.

alicepic1

Her first target is Alice

She says of Alice “She always has her head in the clouds and it took seeing her wildest fantasies realized to knock some since into her. Even when she becomes hopelessly lost in Wonderland and desperately wants to leave, she still lets her curiosity get the better of her”

Hmmm… well, let’s ignore the fact that there would be no movie if she didn’t let her curiosity be the better of her. But I propose there is more to Alice than mere wild fantasies and curiosity over a rabbit.

Alice doesn’t just wander absent mindedly into Wonderland. She proposes at the start of the film that a world with nonsense would be better. The whole point of Wonderland is to then test out this worldview. She meets one form of nonsense after another whether it be philosophic nonsense in the caterpillar or a tea party that never ends with the Hatter.

There is actually something bold about the mental exercise Alice undertakes. The great philosophers and minds of our time have gotten to greater understanding because they dared to test the world out in a new way.  For example, Plato’s Republic, Dante’s Inferno, Moore’s Utopia all put on new goggles to hopefully understand the world better.  This should be encouraged and makes Alice a good role model for girls.

The thing that sucks about the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland is they forget about this part of Alice’s character and make it a meaningless adventure with a prophecy and chosen one. Alice is escaping her own problems in that version but in the Disney animated film she is seeing the world in a whole new way.

aurora

Next up is Aurora

The writer is so bold as to say “I think it’s pretty obvious that Aurora doesn’t set a very good example for young girls”.  Her main beef with Aurora is that she falls in love with a man over a dance and she seems to think they are going to run away together. I guess this writer must not like Juliet, Isolde, Guinevere or any number of classic romantic heroines who fall in love quickly.

But where does it say that Aurora is planning to run away with the Phillip? She has plans to meet him later that evening and is twitterpated but I don’t think it is ever clear she is getting married that night. She’s excited about a dance with a boy. What’s wrong with that? She’s then sad when she finds out she will never see him again. Pretty natural response if you ask me.

Also, the author claims Aurora “is beautiful and can sing…That’s literally it”. I disagree. Animals do not take to people very easily but who do the animals love? Aurora. The Fairies adore her and feel sad when they have to turn her over to her father. Do you think they would feel this way if she was a ditzy nothing?

Then the author faults her for giving into the curse. “And the fate of her entire kingdom rests on her not pricking her finger on a spinning wheel; *sighs* you had one job!” This critique is by far the most baffling as even Merrywether an actual faerie can not reverse Maleficent’s magic. How is an ordinary girl like Aurora supposed to do that? It’s an outrageous claim!

Part of the problem with Aurora is we simply don’t see that much of her what with her being SLEEPING BEAUTY!! But what we do see is a loving, caring person who is elegant and graceful. How she is a bad role model is beyond me.

And then we get to the one that really fired me up!- Ariel!

grotto2

The author’s qualms with Ariel aren’t particularly original, but I reject them nonetheless. She says “you should never go so far as to change who you are to get what you want, especially not for a guy”

Ok. Let’s talk about this. The first time we see Ariel she is missing the concert for what? She is off collecting treasures from a ship. This is where she finds the dinglehoffer and snarfblat. Then we first see her entering the grotto and singing Part of Your World BEFORE SHE MEETS ERIC!

She has hundreds of items in her grotto and what does she tell Flounder? ‘I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad’.

You can make the argument that Ariel is short-sighted when she follows the Sea Witch but why does she do it? Not to get a man but because her father has just destroyed her grotto- her one connection to the human world. Eric is simply the catalyst that gets her to make a decision she has always wanted to make.

I don’t know if it is canon or not but in Ariel’s Beginning we also learn that her mother had a fascination with human artifacts- particularly a music box, so that may explain part of it as well.

Ariel is definitely smitten with Eric but how you can say it is the reason she gives up who she is I just don’t understand. I think she has always felt uncomfortable in her own skin. Again before she meets Eric she says “I just don’t see things the way he does”.  It is no accident that Ariel has become a ROLE MODEL for many LGBT teens who also feel uncomfortable in their own bodies.

When she sings Part of Your World she says ‘lookin around here you think sure, she’s got everything” but then adds “I want more…”. Again, all before Eric. I think that’s a great thing to look up to. Someone who fights for where they belong and who they truly are. Triton recognizes this at the end and that is why he changes her over.

Even Sebastian says it is either Ariel be human or “be miserable for the rest of your life”. That’s a good role model in my book.

pocahontas-and-john-smith

This whole thing baffles me when you have such easy fodder as Pocahontas who is actually partly responsible for an innocent man’s death. She is older than Ariel or Aurora and is consistently a poor listener to those warning caution. She does selfless things at the end but if you had to pick a bad role model of a Disney woman she’s at the top of the list.

And then there are other questionable characters. How about the girl in the Jungle Book who is perfectly happy to get the water and care for her man her entire life?

As much as I love Frozen, Anna is much less developed and is manipulated by men more than Ariel.

Megura in Hercules sells her soul to the devil to get a man. That’s pretty bad and Esmeralda in Huncback dances provocatively before men.

The truth is I don’t think any of these women are bad role models because their characters have arcs that teach good lessons. With proper parenting kids can gain all kinds of lessons from ANY Disney film.

You may think I am fangirling here but I think that’s the case with Dreamworks too or Don Bluth or any film designed for children. I have yet to see one that is so bad that there isn’t something a parent can use to teach or role model off of.  Even the dreaded Chicken Little has lessons in there.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ll keep my role models to the end. 🙂

The Mystery of My Movie Taste

thinking

I usually try to go to a movie on Monday night and today there wasn’t’ anything new I wanted to see so I saw The Good Dinosaur for the third time.  I watched it cognizant of the many of the complaints I’ve heard over the last few months and you know what?  I freakin loved it! None of the things that bother other people bother me, and it’s got me pondering.

As a writer I hope to be able to quantify why something works and why it doesn’t work, but sometimes that can be easier said than done.  Sometimes it is confusing even for me why the same problem in one film drives me crazy, while in another I don’t care the slightest.

For example, everyone it seems went ga-ga for Bridge of Spies and I was left a little puzzled.  To me I nodded off and thought it was fine but thoroughly conventional.  It was a part courtroom drama I’ve seen before and part diplomatic film I’ve seen before.

But then in contrast look at Good Dinosaur which is also conventional in some ways, and some also think it is slow, and yet I loved it.  How do I explain the differing reactions? Both are well made movies and yet one’s conventionality or lack of originality bothered me and another it didn’t?

There are other examples I could use.  Like I thought Spectre was a disappointment because it went back to the old school Bond I don’t really like.  I didn’t like Terminator Genisys and was lukewarm about Jurassic World.   I loved The Peanuts Movie, which pulls a lot from existing source material.  Why does one work and another not?

Many have criticized Star Wars: Force Awakens for a lack of originality and I loved that movie. I’ve seen it 4 times and like it more each time I see it.   Hmmmm…

Is it all just random?

I’ve always said that most movies are like giving the director a movie kit.  This kit can be an action movie kit, or a comedy kit and a good director will take that kit and do something clever, charming, startling whatever with said kit.

Star Wars was definitely a ‘star wars kit’ but it did new and different things with it.  For example, having a storm trooper defecting was new.  Rey’s vision was something new (we’ve never had a flashback of any kind in Star Wars).  All the new characters were just that new. Also the look and feel of it was something we haven’t seen in a long time so in many ways it felt like a combination of new and old.

The Good Dinosaur is kind of the same way.  They took a hero journey dinosaur movie we’ve seen before and added an emotional complexity I wasn’t expecting that moved me.  There were characters that are mean and scary and that surprised me.  There’s humor and I loved Arlo and Spot.  Then you add the new visuals which blew me away you have something that dazzled me.

The Peanuts Movie may be familiar to some but it kept things simple and sweet and the core of who Charlie Brown is.  I loved the animation and it was a funny, lovely movie.  I think I didn’t mind it was unoriginal because I don’t want original thinking when it comes to Peanuts for goodness sakes!

There are so many movies I loved this year which you could say come from kits.  Cinderella, I loved and does it really do anything that revolutionary?  No, it tells it’s story well and that’s all it had to do.

I still maintain that Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man both executed a comic book movie kit well.  Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation delivered the Mission Impossible kit well.  Brooklyn gave me the old fashioned romantic drama kit perfectly.  I didn’t any of these films to reinvent the wheel- just execute the movie kit you are given well and they did.

I guess after all one of my favorite writers (not just movies) of all time is Nora Ephron and her movies definitely use kits but she does it so well.  I love You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally despite the formula.  I love the characters, writing, commentary on life, romance and stories.

In fact, if you go down my favorite movies of all-time many of them aren’t all that ‘original’.  Let’s look at them:

  1.  Up
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  3. Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast
  4. Wizard of Oz
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird
  6. It’s a Wonderful Life
  7. Sound of Music/Singing in the Rain
  8. When Harry Met Sally/You’ve Got Mail
  9. Empire Strikes Back/Star Wars
  10.  Perks of Being a Wallflower
  11. The Apartment
  12. Spirited Away
  13. Back to the Future
  14. All About Eve
  15. Raiders of the Lost Arc
  16. Boyhood
  17. Inception
  18. Where the Wild Things Are
  19. Lord of the Rings
  20. Gravity

They all have original elements to them but most of them are based on previously existing novels. I love these movies so much and yet people bring up negative things about them all the time.  I shrug and say ‘doesn’t bother me’.  Because it is true!

Maybe it is foolish of me to try to explain my opinion at all when it is so random? All I know is what I like and don’t like, and I enjoy sharing it with all of you.

When it comes down to it, I don’t mind kit movies.  I don’t mind stock characters.  I don’t even mind a Mary Sue from time to time (there I said it) but it all has to be within the picture as whole working and having enough good pieces for me to enjoy it.

There it is.  The answer- Does the good outweigh the bad?  Indeed does it make me forget, not even notice the bad? Good Dinosaur, Peanuts Movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: Force Awakens, all did that for me this year.  Terminator Genisys, Spectre, Jurassic World, Bridge of Spies did not.

Maybe it’s not so complicated after all?…

Good and Bad of Women in Film in 2015

woman in 2015

Spoiler warning for Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens below.

The other day my blogging friend Mark at Fast Film Reviews posted his Best Films of 2015.  What stood out to me most is that each of his 10 favorite films had a strong female presence in the film.  This is a remarkable feat that wouldn’t have been possible most years.  I’m not exaggerating when I say Meryl Streep has gotten as many nominations as she has not only because she is a great actresses but because literally some years there weren’t many strong female roles to pick from.  Even studios I love like Pixar have had few female roles.  Often you will have the token woman lead in a series dominated by male characters (Star Wars 1-6 definitely fit this camp).

I’m not saying I liked all of the female driven films of 2015.  Of course I didn’t.  Woman in Gold bored me silly and I hated Suffragette.  But I think it is a good thing we have good, bad, in-between movies about women, just like we have them about men!   If you will notice in my graphic all of the female performances were white women so that is something that could change but bravo to see half the human population represented in this storytelling device we call movies!  We’ve had female driven comedies, dramas, post-apocalyptic stories, classics, animation, teenage movies, science fiction and space opera (and I realized I forgot to include Hunger Games in the graphic!).

Unfortunately, the jury is still out as to whether this is an anomaly or a lasting trend.  2016 is very heavy in superhero movies (8 in one year!) and we will see how they do with Wonder Woman but not very optimistic on that front.  Of course, we have the female cast Ghostbusters which will be a very interesting to see how that plays out.  I am sure no matter how good it is there will be idiots who complain about the casting gimmick, but I just want to see the movie!

That’s where we get to the bad of this great year for women in film.  We unfortunately have gotten the complaining from corners who don’t want to see progression in characters and representation on screen.  Yes, if casting a female in a part is just to be politically correct than you have a point.  Part of the problem with Princess and the Frog is Disney was too concerned with both representing and placating an African American audience.  They made story changes, altered characters and ended up with kind of a muddled movie (not terrible but not as strong as it could have been).  Same thing when they tried to not offend the catholic church with Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Changing Frollo to a judge actually made the church look worse as the institution, not just a lone bishop, is enabling a mad man raise a child and not doing anything to stop the horrible behavior and manipulation.

So yes, Hollywood is a business and if they can follow a trend of female based movies, they will do it.  If it stops being the trend than they will stop doing it.  I repeat- it’s a business.  They want to make money! So of course after a big hit like Hunger Games we have seen many strong women in the movies.

Here’s the bad side of the trend, all the trolling and moronic comments that have resulted. This is particularly true with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The complaints for both films really irritate me.

This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure film, “Mad Max: Fury Road," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

First of all, Max Max: Fury Road is criticized because Furiosa is basically the lead of the film rather than Mad Max.  I’m no expert on the Mad Max franchise but wasn’t Max always kind of secondary to the environment and world around him?  Is he really that much of a dynamic character? Isn’t he pretty much an excuse to have great action set pieces and a fun gritty story? So why does it matter that in this case the world around him is a strong woman?  And isn’t every scene Furiosa in Max also in except for the very beginning when she begins her drive?

To me it makes sense in a post-apocalyptic world that women would be both prized for their sex and fertility and also have to be incredibly tough to survive.  Furiosa’s character is not only that but she is angry and really a revolutionary with her stealing Joe’s wives.  Of course she is a tough woman.  She would be slaughtered in the first 15 minutes of the movie if she wasn’t!  There is also never a moment of traditional ‘girl power’ in the movie.  For instance, she just shoots the giant gun.  She doesn’t say something girl powery like ‘that’s how ladies get it done’.  She just does it, just like Max does it.

Neither Max or Furiosa have any dialogue so why her character annoys people more than his is beyond me?  They are both characters that are fighting a post-apocalyptic battle on cars.  It’s as simple as that.

It will be interesting to see where the story goes in the next movie but for the one we got, in the genre it was trying to be in, Furiosa was awesome.

rey2

Ok.  Let’s tackle Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  In the film we get a new lead character Rey played by Daisy Ridley.  She is a scavenger who is waiting for her family to come back after they left her on a desert planet named Jakku.  As a scavenger she learns about machines and she says she has experience as a pilot.  She identifies herself as a pilot from the beginning.  Poe Dameron also identifies himself as a pilot. Nobody has any problem with that…

So, Rey flies the Millennium Falcon and she is by no means perfect in the flight.  She bounces around a bit and is on the run most of the time.  Through some clever thinking, more than brilliant flying she evades the tie-fighters. When it is over Finn asks her ‘how did you do that?’.  She says something like “I don’t know.  We trained but never left the planet”.  She’s clearly a character that operates well on extreme adrenalin and she has force abilities that are awakened through the course of the movie.

If you think about it she makes a poor decision under less adrenalin when changing the fuses in the scenes with the rathgars.   Also for someone who has only been trained on blasters Finn adapts to the Tie-Fighter and Falcon pretty easily.  He also knows where to go to turn off the shields and is able to make his way to Captain Phasma and capture her without disturbing anyone else on the ship.  For a guy in sanitation that was simple for him? Yet I don’t see anyone complaining about his character or that he is a Gary Stu?

She is also different than Luke because Luke was a doubter.  It took him forever to believe in the force and its power and be confident in using it.  Really not until Return of the Jedi is he confident.  Yoda tells him “that is why you fail” because his lack of faith in the force and his own abilities are his biggest problem.  I mean if you really think about it Luke had never really piloted much before and yet he does a darn good job in those missions at the end of New Hope.  Nobody complains about that.  If Luke hadn’t been bogged down by self-doubt than he probably would have been able to do everything that Rey does.  People accept things at different rates.  Rey is a believer and therefore she uses the force more quickly than Luke did.

Now there is one moment in the film where Rey changes a stormtrooper’s mind and this idea comes to her seemingly out of nowhere.  Although humorous, this could have been handled better, but to call into question the entire character and claim she is a Mary Sue because of it, is just ridiculous.

The final battle between her and Kylo is also a point of contention.  In this scene Kylo is injured, and injured so badly a significant amount of blood has come through his clothing to drip onto the ground.  That’s no small injury.  He also shows at the beginning that he can throw her against the tree.

But then her confidence grows as the fight continues.  She’s just seen Finn hurt, possibly dead, Han is dead,  and she fights with a ferocity we don’t often see in Star Wars.  But she is still on the defense for most of the fight.  Then we get to the point where he has her on the edge of a ravine and she hears the words of Maz Kanata about the force.  This gives her the strength to tackle an INJURED Kylo Renn.

the-princess-bride-the-princess-bride-4546832-1280-720If you think about action scenes in other classic movies things are far easier for the male heroes than they are for Rey in Force Awakens, and yet I don’t hear complaints of Mary Sue or Gary Stu.  The Princess  Bride for instance- a movie I love by the way.  Yes, Wesley is a pirate but does it make sense he would be smarter than a deep thinker, stronger than a giant and a better swordsman than a man who trained all his life to avenge his father’s death?  No.  Of course it doesn’t but it’s a live action fairytale with a sense of humor to it.  I want in my Princess Bride movie for the hero to dominate and have quippy dialogue.  (Another movie with the token woman and almost all the rest men).

You can make a similar argument about Indiana Jones finding clues in  minutes scores of people are researching and digging for.  I have never heard anyone claim he is a bad character.  Even if they hate the last movie they still like the character.  What about the Goonies?  People love that movie but it is about kids finding treasure underneath a major city (all the goonies by the way are nearly all boys!). You going to tell me it makes sense that generations of people weren’t able to find those caverns and treasure when a couple of kids are able too?  Indiana Jones and Goonies are great movies because they work within the genres they are given and have good scripts.

Star Wars movies are meant to be exciting, fun, space operas.  They aren’t supposed to be gritty depictions of realistic warfare.  The character arcs are pretty simple but we love it for that very reason.  The problem with the prequels is the characters got muddled and made poor decisions (with dopey dialogue too).  The fact is Rey is a character with confidence who acts well under adversity. For the life of me I don’t know what’s wrong with that?

Mad Max is a kinetic crazy battle film.  Furiosa is a strong character who is in nearly every scene with Max and they fight the bad guys.  It’s as simple as that.

So, to those complaining about Star Wars and Mad Max, I can see having issues with individual scenes in the film, as do I, but to fault the movie for Furiosa and Rey I do not get.  Those are terrific characters that fit within the genre of movie they are in.  I’m sorry if their presence annoys you but again grow up!  If you don’t like the movies.  Fine.  But stop with the Mary Sue and the feminists are taking over our movies nonsense.

That’s what I have to say about that!  Let’s just hope that Wonder Woman is 1/10th the character Furiosa and Rey were.  A girl can dream right?

Should I Give Grades?

grades

Hi friends!  I want to ask your opinion.  One thing as a movie blogger I have struggled with is rating or ranking the films I see.  It’s one thing if it is the Pixar reviews or Disney Canon reviews and they are films I can watch multiple times really crafting an “expert” opinion.   I feel more confident in those reviews; although, some of the early Canon reviews I think I was a little bit tough (particularly Bambi and Pinocchio) because I didn’t have much experience writing reviews. But when I am reviewing a new movie it is hard to have that kind of exposure to the film and it is mostly a response to my gut reaction.  It’s tough to take notes although sometimes I do.  I think most readers understand the difference between new and previously released films but I wonder if the grading system I use sometimes hinders me a bit in giving that response.

Here’s what I mean.  There are a lot of films that I enjoy and would sincerely recommend them to people.  That said, I see the flaws and feel they are an average film.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  This according to my grade gets a C grade.  B is really good and A is in running for best of year. But it seems to me that people can become to fixated on the C grade and ignore all the positive things I said in the review.  Sometimes I wonder if people read the review at all and just looked at the grade.

In general I think I’m actually a little bit too generous with the A grades.  After all I gave 22 As in my Disney Canon ranking.  That’s almost half. I gave 10 of the Pixar films A grades.  And yet recently I’ve been accused of being a “tough critic”.  This is mainly I think because of my disappointment in the Minions movie.  However, if you actually read that review I think I was far nicer than many other animation bloggers I know.  In fact I said:

“A friend of mine asked me if she should still see and I said yes.  It’s fine but just know it is made for little kids without a ton of grown up appeal…However, it does look nice and is bright and colorful and the beginning 20 minutes is a lot of fun”

Here I was telling my friends go see it but my giving it a C- (just a hair below average) means I am a tough critic?  I don’t get it?

One thing I have noticed is in my video reviews for my youtube channel I don’t give out grades.  Not out of design but honestly most of the time I simply forget. I just give my response to the film and people seem very happy with that.  I wonder sometimes if people listen to what I say a little bit more because I didn’t give a grade?

Sometimes I feel like the judges on Dancing with the Stars that get booed anytime they say anything negative about a performance.  I’ll say tons of great things about a film and then have a few things I didn’t like and people focus on those instead of all the good stuff.  That can be very frustrating as a writer.

I’ve had people say a ‘you should have given it a B’ but when we actually talk about our experiences and reactions they aren’t that different. It’s just what defines a C to me is a B for him or her.  That makes me want to throw the grades out!

I don’t know.  What do you think?  Do you see value in having a grade at the end of the review?  Is it something you care about?  Do you think I am a tough critic?  Sure I have my preferences but there are very few movies I totally dog (Maleficent I’m talking to you…).

Please give me some feedback my lovely readers.  Do you like the grades or can I do away with them and just write my thoughts on the film?  That’s what I did for Scrooge Month last year and it worked out great.  No grades needed.

Thanks for your help with this!