Four killer trailers for the best movies of 2015

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Never have I been this stoked about so many monstrous movies coming at us in a single year.

And I’m skipping a few that look good.

Here are the four biggest films that I would crawl through glass to see three different times.

May 1 = AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

May 15 = MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

November 6 = SPECTRE

December 18 = STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

 

Top 3 reasons why the new, extended trailer for AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON rocks so hard

1) It’s funny, and not in a forced way, like a Saturday Night Live skit that repeats the same joke seventeen times.

The actors seem natural and relaxed.

2) The director lets this scene play out.

Today, that’s rare, with directors eager to bust out the CGI and blow up more stuff that only exists as pixels on giant servers.

Josh Whedon figures he has enough excitement packed into the movie and gives us a long, funny breather. Which is wonderful, because not rushing the payoff for this scene makes is far more powerful.

3) That payoff is amazing, and a completely different emotion than how the scene started.

Ultron showing up like this is not only a surprise, but a shock, and his lines are simply perfect. Unsettling and dark and wonderful.

Well done, Josh the Whedon, well done. A far better trailer than the usual Michael Bay explosion-fest that’s required of every big-budget action movie.

 

Top 11 posts about the Big Screen and Such, Because Top 10 Lists are Common and therefore Boring:

The Red Pen of Doom dissects every Batman movie IN HISTORY

Top 5 reasons EDGE OF TOMORROW works — and why it redeems Tom the Cruise

THE WOLVERINE proves Writing Law #1 – Less is More

Seattle superheroes challenged by supervillain Rex Velvet

Hollywood: Sidekicks do NOT need their own stupid sidekicks

Seven movie clichés that must be NUKED FROM ORBIT

MAN OF STEEL and the Invincible Hero Problem

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: Why it works

Big, Beautiful Movies with Sad, Stupid Endings

THE AVENGERS + THE BREAKFAST CLUB = AWESOMESAUCE

Like Godzilla in Tokyo, PACIFIC RIM smashes all expectations

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This is Guy Bergstrom the writer, not the Guy Bergstrom in Stockholm or the guy in Minnesota who sells real estate or whatever. Separate guys. Kthxbai.
Guy Bergstrom. Photo by Suhyoon Cho.

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Many Bothans died to bring us this teaser for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS teaser

Long ago, in a galaxy named after a candy bar for some reason, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced–because the Mouse had bought the entire Star Wars franchise.

Everybody who grew up on the original Star Wars movies felt this pain.

I prepared myself for Disney princesses with cute neon pink lightsabers, then endless straight-to-video sequels and prequels that would make STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE look like THE GODFATHER. (Related: Why new STAR WARS movies by Disney are an achy breaky big mistakey)

However: this was before they announced that JJ Abrams would direct the first new movie.

Also: Disney also owns Marvel now, and Marvel is on an insanely successful roll.

 

All of the Marvel movies since IRON MAN have rocked. I figured the Captain America ones would stink, since it would be easy to make those corny and uber-patriotic, but they nailed both of them. WINTER SOLDIER is darker than dark. Loved it. On the other hand, FOX studios proves you can take a great character and great actor and absolutely blow the thing with two horrible Wolverine movies.

Marvel can’t do wrong. And now JJ Abrams, after rebooting Star Trek into awesomesauce, looks like he’s doing the same thing with Star Wars.

The only way this trailer could look and feel better is if the new Sith uses his wicked lightsaber to make a clean break with the Lucas prequels by slicing Jar-Jar Binks in half.

Was Episode 2 of GOTHAM an epic fail or glorious win?

the many moods of batman

The pilot episode of GOTHAM tried to pack three hours of characters, action and material into one hour, which is more like 42 minutes with all the commercial breaks.

Did I like it? Absolutely.

Was it 10 pounds of plot shoved into a 5-pound bag? Yes. And part of that couldn’t be helped.

However, we now have Episode 2, in capital letters, to reflect upon and answer the question: Can the writers and showrunners keep this thing exciting while slowing it down and giving key characters more screen time?

Here’s the trailer for the pilot, and while this trailer is well done, it doesn’t do justice to how much they tried to pack into it.

And for comparison, before we chat, check out the promo for Episode 2:

So how did they do? Just fine.

In fact, this is one of the rare shows where Episode 2 is better than the pilot.

Why? This time was slower in a good way. They gave villains time to chew the scenery, with the best bits being the slowest scenes.

The second show reminded me of how Quentin the Tarantino ratcheted up the suspense, higher and higher, with the opening scene of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

And that’s only a taste of that scene. It goes on and on, and you don’t care that nothing seems to be happening, that’s it’s simply two men at a table with a glass of milk, talking. Because there’s crazy tension and conflict there without a single gunshot or explosion. Michael Bay would go deep into withdrawal, right?

But slow can work. Slow burns are often the best burns. Gunfights and making things go boom doesn’t mean anything unless you give it meaning.

BREAKING BAD understood this perfectly. There was no shortage of blood on the floor of that set, yet Vince the Gilligan and his creww always took their time to carefully plant setups and build up that tension before finally paying them off.

One of best examples of Chekhov’s Gun ever comes from a literal gun, an M60, they planted in the trunk of Walter White’s car, not knowing when, why or how that gun would go off later in the last season. Brilliant!

 

Why this video is intentionally bad and tremendously good

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

Those two things seem contradictory, don’t they?

No.

A book, movie or TV show can be technically good and awesomely boring at the same time. Example: every CGI-crazed “blockbuster” in the last 10 years that cost $250 million to produce and generated $50 in ticket sales at theaters. Stuff like JOHN CARTER OF MARS and AVATAR (the cartoon, not the blue monkey saga) and five zillion other movies you don’t remember and didn’t see because they stank up the place.

So take a look at this, the Best Ad for a Restaurant in History:

The ad does a number of things badly on purpose.

  • The special effects look like they were put together by a 7th grader who started teaching himself Adobe After Effects yesterday.
  • The script itself put 1,792 grammar teachers in treatment.
  • This actor’s body language could not be more awkward.
  • Casting aside his accent, which I loved, the actor’s inflections keep going astray.
  • The editing and production values, let’s be honest, stink.

If the individual parts of this ad are so horrible, why is the whole thing so great? Continue reading “Why this video is intentionally bad and tremendously good”

Big, Beautiful Movies with Sad, Stupid Endings

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

The First Law of Bad Literary Novels is simple: there are no happy endings.

It’s the same story with Big, Beautiful Movies with Sad, Stupid Endings.

Now, that’s not to say every book and movie needs a prototypical Hollywood happy ending. Tragedies should have sad endings, and there are plenty of classic movies where the ending is ambiguous.

Rocky actually loses his first fight. The victory comes from not getting knocked out – and from the journey from loser to contender. Rocky suffers, sacrifices and grows. That’s why the movie is good: there’s a big contrast between where Rocky is in Act 1 and where he ends up in Act 3.

The trouble with these movies is the audience doesn’t want to see them again, if they ever saw them in the first place, because the ending sours everybody, despite the beautiful imagery and amazing acting.

I’m not saying you can’t make a great movie without being low-brow and throwing in more explosions than Michael Bay ever dreamed possible.

Continue reading “Big, Beautiful Movies with Sad, Stupid Endings”

The trouble with LUCY by director Luc Besson

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I’m a huge fan of Scarlett Johanssson and Luc Besson, director of THE TRANSPORTER, THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE TRANSPORTER PUTS THE FIFTH ELEMENT IN THE TRUNK AND DRIVES IT AROUND EUROPE.

So I saw LUCY last night in this giant building where the floors are sticky and popped corn drenched with fake butter costs $10 a bag.

The previews looked great and word was this movie is interesting, if not weird. Hey, it’s directed by Luc Besson, who I really want to call Jean Luc Besson, so it’s going to be exciting and fast and weird.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s a great parody trailer:

Is this movie good? Sure. Exciting and different. Worth renting, and maybe watching in the theater.

What keeps it from greatness? The Invincible Hero Problem strikes again.

Hollywood keeps forgetting a simple rule: the villain has to be scarier and tougher than your hero.

Otherwise, there’s no jeopardy, no mystery, and the audience doesn’t care, because we know Reacher will mop the floor with every bad guy, Superman will blast Lex Luther and Keanu Reeves became unstoppable once he stopped saying “Whoa” and realized he was The One.

Invincible heroes are boring.

Lucy becomes impossibly powerful about one-third into this movie. The bad guys have zero chance after that. Zippo. She’s like a blonde Neo who escaped the Matrix, flinging people and cars around, communicated with trees and tapping into cell phone calls simply by looking at the electromagnetic spectrum. She’s a stronger god than Thor at this point, though that would make Chris Hemsworth cry when they film AVENGERS 5: IRON MAN VERSUS BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN.

For two-thirds of LUCY, the audience sits back and watches her do whatever she wants. There’s a bit of drama at the end, with the crime lord sneaking up behind her with a gun, though nobody using even 5 percent of their brain believed the villain had a chance of actually shooting her.

A great thriller requires a great villain. The hero has to be an underdog. The weaker you make the hero, and the stronger you make the villain, the better the ending.

Look at THE LEGO MOVIE, where the hero — the little boy — has zero shot of winning against his father, who doesn’t want him playing with his perfectly constructed Lego town. Dad holds all the power and authority. The little boy can’t win by beating his father in a fist-fight. This movie is different, and special, because the hero actually gets the villain to change course by using words instead of bullets, and it makes you cry.

So, peoples of Hollywood, please remember the most basic storytelling rule before you do a page 1 polish of a script that already cost you $5 million and has the names of seven different writers hanging from it already. That rule is simple: the villain must be stronger than the hero. Period. End of story.

If you really want to get crazy, and have some kind of unstoppable hero that you don’t want to change, flip the script and make Captain Invincible Pants your villain. How will the puny humans stop him? Oh, now you’ve got something.

Giving THE TRANSPORTER a tune-up

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THE TRANSPORTER is the break-out movie for Jason Statham, and though I am perhaps the world’s biggest fan of Jason the Statham Kicking Things in the Face, there are clunky bits rattling around in the engine compartment of this film, keeping it from true greatness.

It’s like a classic car with a gorgeous front end, giant engine and gimpy transmission.

So I’m dragging it into the shop and turbo-charging this thing.

Having recently rewatched THE TRANSPORTER using time-travel technology called Blu-Ray, three things stuck out: the beginning, the middle and the end.

The beginning is amazing. The middle sags.

The ending is underwhelming.

Let’s grab plot wrenches, get our hands greasy and figure out why.

Act 1: A Man and His Car

The first scene of the film is amazing. Frank puts on his driving gloves, fires up his exquisite piece of German engineering and picks up his first package to transport, no questions asked. Turns out to be four bungling bank robbers and this opening car chase is thrilling.

The next major scene brings us to the best part of the movie, after his second job goes bad and Frank’s beloved black sedan goes boom while he’s eating a sandwich. Frank returns to that client’s mansion and rings the doorbell. Result? Awesomesauce.

Act 2: Making Things All Confusing

So that woman you saw in the clip, the one tied a chair with duct tape covering her mouth, well, she was one of the packages in Frank’s trunk, and he broke one of his rules by opening that package and finding her.

Why was she in that trunk? The movie never really gives us a good reason, or any real reason at all. This is why the power of the engine in Act 1 doesn’t get transmitted to the back wheels of Act 3.

The story tries to connect things by saying she’s the daughter of a wealthy bad guy who’s working with the Main Bad Guy from that mansion – you know, the crime lord who blew up Frank’s car – and they’re both make piles of money smuggling people from Asia to Europe in container ships.

The woman says she wants to save those people from slavery and possible death. She lies about her family being in the container, including her father. Who’s actually not inside the container because he’s a villain.

So yeah, it’s a hot mess of tangled plot wires that only makes the audience think too hard, trying to sort things out, which you can’t really do because nothing makes sense.

Also: we never hear why anybody would put this woman into the trunk in the first place. Bit of a problem there.

Act 3: Hey, We Saw a 007 Movie Once or Twice

There are a few more good fight scenes, including the famous Grease Battle in a garage.

Yet the final act devolves into a chase scene that could be taken from any random film involving 007, Jason Bourne or Tom Cruise in Long-Haired Mode While He’s Shooting MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 6: GHOSTS IN MS PAC MAN.

Frank commandeers a crop duster, parachutes onto the convoy of Bad Guys and fights them while trying to steer the semi carrying the container full of people.

In the climax, the father of the love interest gets the drop on Frank, who meekly puts his hands up and gets marched to a cliff and certain doom, though he does grab a rock and seems to be thinking about chucking it at the villains head. You know, eventually. When the mood is right.

He never gets around to it, despite the gun pointed at his nose, and the love interest winds up saving Frank by shooting her dad.

Does that sound anti-climactic? Yes. Yes it does. And it is.

Grabbing a wrench and fixing things

Frank has three simple rules.

Rule Number 1: Never change the deal.

Rule Number 2: No names.

Rule Number 3: Never open the package.

We can fix this movie with three simple plot rules.

Rule Number 1: The hero is the one who changes.

Whatever problem is presented in Act 1, it has to be the hero who fixes it, and he or she must go on a journey to do so. The tougher the journey, the better the story. The more the hero suffers, sacrifices and grows, the better the story.

And in the climax, the hero must face a choice, a single moment where everything hangs in the balance.

The audience is denied these things by (a) not allowing Jason to change and grow and (b) giving the climax to the love interest instead of the hero. She’s the one who shoots the bad guy. Jason is passive in the end. That doesn’t work and is a big reason the ending feels flat.

How can we make Frank change, suffer and grow? Let him lose a few fights. Seriously. It’s a romp, beginning to end, and he’s never really challenged. Let him lose the first few fights. Show him practicing, sweating, training and getting better. Make the uber villain TOUGHER than him and let that villain kick Frank’s butt in their first encounter. Because as things are, it’s a romp. Frank kicks everybody’s butt and you never doubt him for a second. Let the audience doubt that the hero will prevail and make the hero suffer and sacrifice to become good enough to have a chance in the final fight.

Rule Number 2: No surplus names.

When it doubt, cut it out. Kill every character you can and give their role to somebody else.

Which characters waste valuable screen time?

The most obvious one is the father of the love interest. He tangles up the story and detracts from the main villain, the one who blew up Frank’s beloved black car.

The final battle should be between our hero and the uber villain, who dies before the climax. So we’re left with the old man, who’s clearly no physical threat compared to Frank, and that makes for a boring ending.

Solution: eliminate the father as a character and give more screen time to the real bad guy.

Rule Number 3: Never open the fanciest package first.

If you’ve got an amazing action movie, your first step has to be looking at the set pieces. Which one is the most exciting? Which ones are middling? And where are the minor ones?

You need all three types of scenes. It doesn’t work to crank everything up to 11, Michael Bay style, because that simply numbs the audience.

Put the best scenes first and the least-exciting fights last, and your audience will have their expectations bashed against the rocks. They expect things to get more and more exciting as a movie gets closer to the end and you’ll confuse them by reversing the order.

Build up to a climax and put your most exciting scene in Act 3.

So yes, let’s put that amazing mansion fight in Act 3 now, and finish off the movie with Frank fighting the young villain, the one with the bad facial hair, instead of standing around at gunpoint waiting for the love interest to shoot her evil poppa.

This rule also works, by the way, for a series, whether it’s movies or books.

If your first movie is brilliant, your second is good and the closing of the series is average, people will be forever disappointed. They may even hate you for ruining what should be a classic. Am I talking about THE MATRIX trilogy? Maaaybe.

Yet if your first book kinda stinks, your second is good and the last in the trilogy is amazing, people will think you’re a genius, a Lion of Lit-rah-sure.

The same is true for Act 1, 2 and 3 of a single film, even if it’s Jason Statham Kicking Things in the Face.

Pretend it’s Christmas morning. Open the small packages first, the medium ones second and save the biggest, fanciest package for last.

GAME OF THRONES as a cheesy ’80s TV show

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

game of thrones

Now, having only seen bits of GAME OF THRONES doesn’t stop me from loving this video, and wishing they could make an entire episode like this.

Nailed it, didn’t they?

For comparison, here’s the most epic ’80s synthethizer music intro ever, from AIRWOLF:

Let’s chat for a second about why GoT is such a huge hit. It’s not like he invented something brand new, and no, J.R. Tolkien didn’t, either. He borrowed from Nordic myths.

GoT seems to have become huge not despite the fact that major and beloved characters might die at any time, but because of that fact.

It’s completely unlike your typical TV series, which is based on one or two major stars and a cast of bit players. The stars never die, though if a major star leaves the show to give Hollywood a shot, the series often goes kaput.

Think of STAR TREK except Kirk dies in the third episode and Spock gets eaten by a salt-monster on some desert planet in episode five, leaving Bones in charge until the Klingons destroy the Federation in episode seven. Crazy, right? But you’d watch it.

As a special bonus: here are all kinds of intros to crazy ’80s TV shows. Enjoy.

 

Why ARCHER’s arrows are hit and miss

Cast of ARROW tv show

Cast of ARROW tv show

ARCHER — the TV show about a dude with arrows, not the cartoon spoofing James Bond — isn’t horrifically good or amazingly bad, which are the two types of things that are worth discussing and dissecting.

Yet this middling show about a middling superhero is worth taking apart to see the good, the bad and the ugly.

It’s also a good test case, a chance to learn a few lessons from where ARROW works and when it doesn’t. Useful less for anyone who ever wants to write stories, novels, TV shows and movies — or become a masked avenger who lives with his mom.

On the mark: Constant action
There’s no lack of fights, chases and conflict. The opening scenes are often quite good, sometimes starting in the middle of a battle without any boring exposition at all, making you wonder, “Who are those guys Archer is ventilating with green arrows?”

Off the mark: Constant special talks
The fights aren’t bad. The dialogue, though, can kill you.

Every conversation is a special talk that ends in zingers. It’s like the showrunners hired some guy who helped choreograph fights on Jason Statham’s last movie to handle all the fights, then kidnapped the entire writing room of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS to provide the dialogue.

On the mark: A big bad guy
At least in Season 1, the show avoids the Villain of the Week problem, even when it usually has a different villain of the week, by overlaying the entire thing with a conspiracy headed by a Big Bad Guy who tends to sneak into the bedroom of Arrow’s mom to talk smack about their evil plans.

The big villain also happens to be the billionaire father of Arrow’s best friend, who happens to be sleeping with Arrow’s ex-girlfriend. Also, Arrow’s underaged sister has a thing for the best friend. It’s all rather complicated and weird.

Off the mark: A sea of sidekicks
Read that last paragraph again, because it’s the tip of the iceberg. Arrow does live with his mom in a version of Wayne Manor, and his mom (a) ordered Arrow kidnapped earlier to find out what he knew about (b) having Arrow’s dad killed in the same boat sinking that (c) killed the sister of Arrow’s ex-girlfriend and (d) stranded Arrow on an island for years.

It’s weird enough for any adult character to live with their mom. The show gets even weirder with Arrow’s new step-dad also living there and running his dad’s old company, plus the detective who keeps trying to catch Arrow is his ex-girlfriend’s dad.

So yeah, it’s a hot mess of a soap opera, and when Arrow isn’t fighting, he’s having special talks with EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE CHARACTERS.

On the mark: Island flashbacks
I hate flashbacks. They’re usually lazy, useless bags of exposition. Info dumps.

The scenes on this show about the island are fun, because there’s all kinds of conflict, suffering and growth as a spoiled rich kid tries to survive and eventually learns the skills to become a superhero.

Off the mark: All dialogue is on the nose
This was the second reason I thought the showrunners kidnapped the entire writing room of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.

There’s no subtlety to the dialogue, which beats you over the head like a sledgehammer. Everybody says exactly what they mean and they do it in the meanest possible way.

It’s a cornucopia of melodramatic zingers and overwrought angsty nonsense.

The melodramatic dialogue makes the plot veer off all over the place. Characters will throw epic hissy fits, then reverse course in the next episode — or next scene. Archer goes all Bruce Wayne by pretending to be a drunken playboy and telling his ex-girlfriend to stay far, far away from him. Then he shows up at her apartment with a pint of ice cream for them to share while curled up on the couch.

If you fire up Netflix and binge-watch three episodes, Arrow will have a major falling out with his mom, ex-girlfriend, best friend, sidekick, sister and five other people, then make up with all of those people only to piss them off again by the third episode.

Final verdict
Though this is not high art, and middling superhero trash, I like my trash to be as watchable as possible. It’s fun, but could be far better, not by increasing the budget for costumes and sets, but by simply ditching the melodrama and killing off most of the sidekicks.

Special note to showrunners: “More villains! Fewer special talks! Also, don’t have Arrow live with his mom, because that’s creepy for somebody who’s gotta be closer to 30 than 15! Kthxbai.”

Top 5 reasons EDGE OF TOMORROW works — and why it redeems Tom the Cruise

Edge-of-Tomorrow-Poster

Not because the movie is great, though it is.

Not because the director the same amazing man behind THE BOURNE IDENTITY. And not because Emily Blunt and the other supporting actors nailed it.

I almost didn’t see this film because of my antipathy for Tom Cruise, and yeah, I’d lost respect for him the last few years. But this bit of cinema goes a long way toward rehabbing Cruise as a blockbuster star, though not for the reasons you’d expect.

Warning: spoilers. Also, I refer to action heroes as “he” for simplicity, and yes, Ronda Rousey and other female action stars are amazing. 

5) Reversal of tough-guy expectations
Most action stars have an actual background in Being a Tough Guy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was the king of bodybuilding. The rest of the cast of THE EXPENDABLES 12: ANARCHY AT THE AARP MEETING is full of martial arts maniacs, pro wrestling hulks and mixed-martial arts studs.

The fact that Tom Cruise is short in real life isn’t an impediment here. Jackie Chan, Jean Claude Van Damme and Jet Li could all fit in the back seat of a Yugo.

Doesn’t matter. They look big and tough on screen.

The difference? While he did all his own stunts in this movie, just like the toughest Tinseltown tough guys, Tom the Cruise can actually act. Shockingly, acting ability tends to matter on the big screen.

4) Humor that’s deeper than one-liners and puns
Another staple of action movies is a bit of comic relief to balance out all the explosions.

Bond is notorious for bad puns, like “She always did like a good squeeze” after Remington Steele dispatched Onatopp, who later fell in love with Wolverine.

Schwarzenegger is famous for his one-liners, too. I’ll say the phrase and you’ll know the movie:
“I’ll be back.”
“Consider that a divorce.”
“Stick around.”

For action stars, that’s about all the humor than can typically muster, unless their name is Jackie Chan or Jason Statham and they know how to make a fight itself funny.

The humor in action movies is almost always about other characters. The hero is a straight man.

EDGE OF TOMORROW has humor throughout, and it’s far more sophisticated and varied than puns, one-liners and physical gags.

That takes actual acting chops, which Tom has. He uses them, often to get laughs at the expense of his own character. It’s different and refreshing.

3) Acting range
ROADHOUSE is a cult classic that turned Patrick Swayze into a believable action hero, if only for one movie, despite the insane chasm between dirty dancing with Jennifer Gray and bar fights alongside Sam Elliot.

But the range of most of these stars goes like this: brooding while looking off into the distance, brooding while ignoring the love interest, brooding while training, brooding while handling weapons and gear and, finally, grimacing in pain while being tortured by the bad guy before he escapes, throws the villain down a bottomless pit and broods while walking off into the distance.

Not a lot of range there. It’s like the famous internet chart, the Many Moods of Batman.

Tom has plenty of range, which he uses to connects with his co-stars — and connect with the audience in a variety of ways. Other action heroes typically focus on a variety of ways of dispatching bad guys.

2) Improving on the graphic novel

The movie differs from the original graphic novel, and this time, that’s a good thing.

In the novel, the alien Mimics reset the day with three separate ingredients: a Server alien, an Antennae and a Backup Antennae.

Bit complicated. And the novel has the Emily Blunt character turn on the hero at the end, because she figures out she’s the Backup Antennae and the day will keep resetting unless the hero kills her.

This is all too Connor McCloud vs. Duncan McCloud.

The movie simplifies things: there’s an Alpha alien that looks different than the others and has the power — along with the big, immobile Omega brain — to reset the day. If you kill the Alpha and get its blood splattered all over you, that power to reset the day gets transferred. The catch: you have to die, every day.

In the movie, Emily Blunt’s character doesn’t fight Tom Cruise and make him kill her. The climax does something great: it strips Cruise and Blunt of all their powers and gadgets.

Before, she and Cruise both had mech suits and Cruise had the power to reset the day. The climax takes those things away. Cruise only has one shot, one life, and they have to do it without the suits and guns. The stakes are much, much higher.

1) Go ahead and hate him in Act 1
A huge weakness of most action movies is there’s no character arc, no growth.

The hero is a smooth, handsome killer in Act 1. He breaks necks (and hearts) in Act 2 as a warmup, then mows down an army of bad guys in Act 3.

The hero doesn’t really change: he’s awesome the first time you see him, the most skilled and deadly killer around, and it takes an army of bad guys to even match up with him.

In this film, Cruise’s character starts out as a jerk and a coward. Not a little jerk. A big one. And not simply a coward, but a soldier who tries everything to avoid going to the front lines.

So if you started out disliking Cruise, as I did, his character isn’t trying to change your mind. At all. He isn’t saving the cat (Blake Snyder!) in the first scene. The script embraces your ambivalence or dislike of Cruise, and the movie works better if you don’t have a TOP GUN poster in your bedroom and all of his movies on BluRay.

Because the more you dislike or hate Cruise in Act 1, the bigger the journey will be by Act 3 — and real momentum comes not via intensity, but from the emotional distance traveled. If you love a character in Act 1 and love him in Act 3, there’s no journey.

The script doesn’t flip a magical switch, either, and say, “Okay, now you’re supposed to love the guy from here on out.”

Cruise’s character evolves, slowly, and not always in a linear way. There’s a great scene where he gives up. Instead of fighting the same battle on that beach for the 159th time, he steals a motorcycle, goes to London and has a giant pint of beer. This isn’t a throwaway scene. The director, and screenwriter, are surprising us by letting the character make different choices. The hero isn’t your typical action hero robot, plowing ahead to save the day no matter what. He’s human and flawed.

In the end, Cruise’s hero sacrifices himself to protect others. There was a lot of resistance, internally, to him making those choices. His character didn’t always do the heroic thing.

So there’s more to saying this movie is like GROUNDHOG DAY crossed with INDEPENDENCE DAY, and yes, I bet somebody on YouTube already posted a mashup called GROUNDHOG INDEPENDENCE DAY.

Bill Murray’s character in GROUNDHOG DAY also starts out as a selfish jerk. There’s no single moment that turns him into a nice guy. He does bad things and makes all kinds of bad choices. Only in the end does he figure out that becoming a better person takes more than charm and wit. It takes sacrifice and selflessness to get him there.

EDGE OF TOMORROW might have worked with another, unblemished actor. Matt Damon is talented and worked with this director before, and he put on a similar mech suit in Elysium, so I bet he could strap it on just fine. But the movie wouldn’t be as good.

Let’s give props to Tom Cruise: just as Robert Downey, Jr.’s past troubles helped make him the perfect choice for Tony Stark, Cruise’s long rise and fall from grace helped make him the perfect person for this movie. He nailed it in a way that a lesser known – and better liked — actor simply couldn’t.

Top 3 reasons why DEAR KITTEN won the interwebs

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This is three minutes of film, via the Series of Tubes, that doesn’t have a single special effect or Michael Bay explosion. Yet it’s blowing up the Series of Tubes like nobody’s business, and not simply because it has cats.

Watch it, then we’ll dissect this to see how — and why — it works so well.

Beautiful, right?

Here are the top 3 reasons why this snippet of film by BuzzFeed works so well:

1) This is actually a long ad for Friskies … with barely a glimpse of the cat food they’re trying to sell you.

So right there, it’s refreshing, since 99.999 percent of TV ads are in your face, hoping to grab your attention for three seconds before you (a) change the channel, (b) pull out your iPhone or (c) amble on over to pillage the pantry.

Even the insanely hyped Super Bowl ads, the ones that are so famous that we get backstory about the advertising folks who created them, despite the fact they look more like your neighbor Bill the Accountant than Don Draper — well, those supposedly amazing ads are typically disappointing. They try too hard. Too fast, too loud, too much. You can see all the money on the screen and yeah, a lot of it is wasted.

Instead of 30 seconds of cars zooming and Danica Patrick in a bikini selling web domains (don’t get that one, either), we get 3 minutes of slow, leisurely voiceover from a cat while B-roll runs wild.

And it is hilarious.

DEAR KITTEN is also different from some of the better Super Bowl ads, like the Darth Vader kid who starts the car using the force. Those are more like one-joke skits, except not so much that the repetition drives you nuts like a bad SNL bit that’s gone on too long. This kitten business isn’t Johnny One Note at all.

2) A different kind of funny

Most ads aim for broad humor, things that the lowest common demographic will get in a heartbeat. You know, people falling down, exasperated moms, Santa actually coming down the chimney and frowning because LIttle Billy ate all the cookies and drank all the milk.

DEAR KITTEN is a higher form of humor, with great writing. Here’s a section of the script I love, even after hearing it three times:

You should be aware that there are two kinds of food. The first is sort of a brown, dehydrated nibblet. I think they give us these because they are training us to be astronauts. Just a guess. The second kind is wet food. It is so special they keep it in little armored metal casings that no claw can penetrate. With no claws to speak of, the humans can somehow open them. It’s like some dark magic.

Now, that’s great writing, full of sweet little setups and payoffs.

3) Building up to a climax

The writing is good in the beginning, gets better in the middle and rocks at the end.

This is the opposite pattern from most movies, novels, TV shows and circulars in The Willapa Valley Shopper, and not simply because many writers got started at these things called “papers of news” where you’re brainwashed to write using the Inverted Pyramid, which is inherently boring and should be taken behind the barn and shot.

The best stuff goes first because when you pitch a movie, book or TV ad, that’s what you lead with. Otherwise, the thing won’t get off the ground. And that’s what they want to see in the script or the dailies: the awesome stuff you talked about, whether it was dinosaurs roaming the earth again or aliens invading Nebraska, you know, because their spaceships run on corn or whatever. But if you put the very best material up front, by definition the middle will get your junior varsity stuff and the ending will be complete rubbish, the bottom of the tank, the leftovers, the scrubs.

Check out the last part of DEAR KITTEN.

Dear Kitten: I should warn you of the monster known as “Vac-Koom”. It can eat and yell at the same time. And I’ve seen it eat everything. Seriously, like a paper clip and two cat toys. Didn’t even flinch. To hide from Vac-Koom, you may use the curtains of invisibility. Oh yeah, you’re good. Good hiding. Hoh, boy.

Dear Kitten: One final note. Once in a while, you might see a little red dot. I’m going to tell you this right now. It is real, and it can be caught. I did it once. I held it for a full minute. But when I lifted my paws, it was gone.

So Kitten, welcome to the household. You’ll do just fine.

Brilliant. I’m glad they saved the best for last. Vac-Koom and the Curtains of Invisibility will become part of internet lore now.

French filmmaker’s epic tribute to BREAKING BAD

Gus to the cartel: Bring it.

This video by Alexandre Gasulla contains everything I love about BREAKING BAD: the beautifully framed images, the music, the menace, characters who actually suffer and change and die.

Most television series are packed full of cardboard stereotypes and cliches that never change from episode to episode, unless the actor breaks out and bails for Tinseltown paychecks.

Even the best shows either jump the shark (Fonz actually did this on a motorcycle), forgets that when you turn a great villain into a pseudo-hero you have no villain at all (HEROES), gets seven times weirder than necessary (LOST) or simply limps on too long past its expiration date until the network cancels the thing and the showrunners throw together a Giant Flashback Episode, because otherwise, all the actors who bailed to become movie stars won’t be in the finale at all (every TV show ever).

BREAKING BAD ended on its own terms, the story complete. Thank you, Alexandre, for making this work of art celebrating a work of art.

Related post: Top 5 reasons Breaking Bad was insanely good

Why the classic movie DUNE is a hot mess

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I remember watching DUNE in the theater and thinking, “Whoah.”

Then again, I was a whippersnapper with no taste when it first came out. So on Old Movie Night, we popped in DUNE and fired it up.

Oh my.

There’s no doubt that DUNE is a hot mess. The question is, why?

Suspect No. 1: Horribly Cheesy Special Effects

This is a good place to start. You can’t excuse David the Lynch for not having access to better special effects, not when this movie came out after all three of the original STAR WARS movies were out.

Check out the trailer and tell me the effects are up to snuff, even for the era.

So, the effects in DUNE are Dr. Who-level lame. You expect the rocks to some styrofoam they bought off the old Star Trek set.

But bad effects aren’t the main reason this film is a hot mess. An audience will forgive bad effects if the story and characters are compelling.

Suspect No. 2: All Kinds of Crazytown

You don’t hire David the Lynch to direct a normal movie. You hire him to spice things up and go a little nuts.

Being absurdly weird can earn your movie cult status, with college kids playing it simply for the biggest excesses and worst moments of wackadoodle.

Moderately good or bad things are mediocre and boring. Give me stuff that's horrifically good or amazingly bad, then we'll talk. Kthxbai.
Moderately good or bad things are mediocre and boring. Give me stuff that’s horrifically good or amazingly bad, then we’ll talk. Kthxbai.

Then again, the tough part is once you base-jump off the Cliff of Normalcy, there’s no guarantee your chute will open.

And this film sprints away from Normal, stiff-arms Edgy and slides right into Bizarre.

This is half of the reason the film is a hot mess. You’re constantly distracted, sometimes by the bad effects, but more often by the weird, bizarre and gross sideshows that don’t truly move the story. The Baron Harkonnen’s massive zits get a ton of screen time. The Guild Navigators are grotesque. The bad guy troops have reverse mohawk hairdoes while the good guys wear surplus World War II uniforms. It’s constantly and consciously odd, which pulls you out of the story.

But if the story kept moving, I wouldn’t have had time to focus on all the weirdness.

Suspect No. 3: Ponderously Beating the Audience with the Cudgel of Pretentiousness

This is the true culprit.

Audiences will believe in sorcerers and elves if you don’t explain them. They’ll buy lightsabers and aliens who are into M & M’s — but not if you get pretentious and deep trying to explain all those things.

See, audiences want to believe. If you set things up from the start, they’ll stick with you. What you can’t do is (a) switch mid-way though a normal book or movie to say “Hey, actually the hero is a vampire. Surprise!” (b) commit the Hollywood sin of double-mumbo jumbo — trying to have a story that’s about dragons and trolls … plus space witches with lightsabers or (c) constantly stop the story to intrude with pretentious narration and dialogue that’s on the nose.

It’s that last sin that DUNE commits right away, with a long narration setting things up following be another and another and another.

Every time the story moves forward two inches, somebody has to stop to explain it to the audience for three minutes, as if we aren’t smart enough to watch the story and understand.  It feels less like a movie and more like a lecture. Then the credits roll.

I bet there’s a supercut of DUNE somewhere, a lot like STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM EDIT where some kind person sliced out all the boring nonsense, like Jar Jar Binks and all the talkative scenes where George Lucas is patiently over-explaining things to you and ruining the Force forever by saying it’s caused by space bacteria or whatever. No.

DUNE breaks new ground with the Unnecessary Voiceovers by having every actor whisper a voice-over of what they’re thinking, which is usually stuff the audience already knows, but hey, beat them on the head with it again.

Which is too bad. There are great actors in here like Kyle MacLachlanPatrick StewartSting and Jürgen Prochnow. A less wacky, less ponderous film with the same cast would have been awesome, even with the same cheesy special effects. It would also be far shorter and more watchable.

Why THE LEGO MOVIE works like magic

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Movies based on toys, or cartoons from the ’80s designed to sell toys, tend to suck like Electrolux.

THE LEGO MOVIE is a happy exception to this rule. It’s worth talking about how they accomplished that trick.

They didn’t do it with snazzy special effects and big-name actors. Just about every film based on toys has great CGI explosions and big actors who aren’t so big that they won’t cash a giant check: BATTLESHIP had Liam Neeson, TRANSFORMERS had Megan Fox, G.I. JOE movies have had the Rock and Bruce Willis.

What makes this movie about interlocking bricks any different?

Reason Number 1: The Humility to Make Fun of Yourself

You don’t see the other toy movies doing this. They try hard–too hard–to be serious, and real, and only tangentially related to all the toys they want your kids to buy.

THE LEGO MOVIE has the guts to poke fun at itself, not once or twice, but during the entire film. Relentlessly. Brutally. Hilariously.

Reason Number 2: Subverting and Smashing Conventional Storytelling

This is the real secret. THE LEGO MOVIE picks up typical Hollywood structure by the throat and body slams it to the asphalt.

A normal action movie features a cartoon hero (Schwarzenegger or Stallone, Bruce Lee or Bruce Willis) who’s tough and cool in Act 1 and doesn’t change by Act 3. In fact, this hero doesn’t change, suffer or grow in any of the sequels.

Instead, the writers of this movie picked a hero who’s an Everyman that the prophecy says will become great and powerful, and save the world … except he never really gets those powers, and the prophet (Morgan Freeman!) admits in the end that he made it all up. There is no prophecy.

In parallel, the screenwriters take Batman, who stands in for your typical cool/tough hero, and show that he’s actually a hot mess. Is he still tough and capable? Sure. But you see the real man behind the façade, and it’s funny and insightful.

The villain is where the writers truly nail it.

In a typical action movie, there’s a cartoon villain doing evil things for no apparent reason other than he’s a villain and that’s what they do. Then in the finale, the hero kills the villain in a dramatic one-on-one gunfight, swordfight or fistfight.

Not this time.

The villain in the Lego world is President Business, whose secret identity is Lord Business, and his evil plan is to freeze the Legos into position with his super weapon, the Kragle (Krazy Glue) while the hero is the only one who can stop him with the Piece of Resistance (the cap to the Krazy Glue).

The writers make the bold choice to break POV here, to switch over to the real world for the first time, showing a little boy playing with a city of Legos in the basement. It’s a museum that his father set up, with signs everywhere warning against not touching what has been perfectly constructed based on the exact instructions.

These aren’t toys, his father tells him. They’re interconnecting plastic construction modules.

In real life and the Lego world, the hero doesn’t win by killing the villain, who has the upper hand. There’s no miracle comeback by the good guys.

The Lego hero echoes the language of the little boy and convinces Lord Business / Dad in Real Life that he doesn’t have to do this, that he’s the most amazing and talented person, who could build anything, and that it doesn’t have to be this way.

There’s an acid test for any story, when you’re trying to figure out who’s the hero. Sometimes, it’s not obvious.

In this movie, the person who makes the biggest leap is the villain, who gains insight and makes the decision to reverse course and allow his son (and daughter) to play with what had become a Lego museum, a no-fun zone.

A brave and brilliant choice, and to me, that’s what makes the movie different.

Bonus featurette:

A little girl discovers rain — and what we all can learn from her

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This video is simple, short and wonderful. Watch it for a second, and then we’ll talk about it. Because there are important lessons for any writer or storyteller.

Why does this work?

There are no words, no script, no production values. It’s just a little kid seeing and feeling rain for the first time in her life, and reaching out to touch it, taste it, feel it.

But it’s impossible to watch this without smiling and laughing. Without FEELING something yourself. And that’s a lesson grown-ups could learn from this toddler.

You have to feel the emotion you want your audience to feel. This is true whether you’re giving a keynote speech, writing a novel or filming a movie that Hollywood is spending $212 million for all kinds of robots and CGI explosions.

Watching this video, you feel pure joy and surprise. Why? Because that’s what this little girl clearly feels. She doesn’t need to use words to say it. We don’t need a narrator to explain it. She shows it with her face and body. And that’s more than enough.

Why WORLD’S END ended with a wimper

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On four different British Airways 747’s to India and back, I watched many, many movies. And it’s worth talking about them not in a “hey, this is out on DVD, so should you fire up Netflix?” kind of way, but in a storytelling way.

Did it work? Why or why not?

WORLD’S END proves that talent doesn’t always equal success. This is a movie with great comedic actors, yet a structural problem kills it. Because it’s truly two different movies slammed together.

The first movie is a comedy about five mates in England getting back together for an epic pub crawl they didn’t finish as college kids.

The second movie involves robots from space, which comes as a huge surprise, and not a good one.

Simon Pegg is brilliant, and he teams up with his sidekick once again, like in SHAWN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. Brilliant!

This movie had potential but is not up to Simon’s usual snuff. The thing is, fixing this film wouldn’t take much.

While the Simon Pegg character is talking his buddies into returning to their home town for the crazy pub crawl, he could’ve dropped hints about drunken fights in pub bathrooms with possible robot imposters. A single line like that could’ve saved this movie.

But instead, we get an orphaned payoff with no real setup.

Bonus: Simon continues the stunt casting of former James Bonds with facial hair playing villains. Timothy Dalton with a Tom Selleck mustache was in HOT FUZZ and this time we’ve got Remington Steele with a goatee. Loved this.

A montage set to music: The best movies of 2013

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Movies are all around us. Kind of like the Force, before George Lucas ruined it with all that claptrap about midichloridians or whatever.

Films live inside your TV, your iPhone, your laptop. They’re sitting on shiny metal disks and even being celebrated in these insanely large and dark stadiums where you pay $12 for popcorn and a Diet Coke that costs 20 cents.

And if you’re anything like me, movies are something magical.

So there’s this professional movie critic, David Ehrlich, a man you’d think only takes joy in ripping apart SMURFS 3: ARE WE THERE YET, PAPA SMURF while praising some black-and-white existential French movie where the hero finally kisses the girl and promptly gets hit by a bus–well, you’d think critics like him wouldn’t create something so joyful and beautiful as this.

Except of course he would. Why does anybody become a movie critic, book reviewer or rock journalist? Because they love nothing more than movies, books and making fun of Axl Rose and Vanilla Ice trying to stage a comeback.

THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 skips right to three villains, which is nuts

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So, it’s the second movie in the series that already had three movies in its previous incarnation. Let’s skip the usual insane pattern of having two villains and go straight to three: Electro, the Green Goblin and Rhino. Seriously?

This is getting a smidge ridiculous. Will we see four villains in the third movie and five in the fourth? The original trilogy of Spiderman movies starring Tobey Maguire went like this:

SPIDERMAN: one hero, one villain (Green Goblin, played by Sergeant Elias from PLATOON). Well done.

SPIDERMAN 2: one hero, two villains (Doc Octopus and James Franco, who likes to write novels while going back to college, plays the angry Son of Green Goblin by using all of the acting range of that dude who played Anakin Skywalker).

SPIDERMAN 3: one hero, three villains (Sandman, Venom and grumpy Son of Green Goblin).

THOR also followed this silly formula, with one villain in the first movie (Loki) and two villains in the second (angry pasty space elf plus Loki again).

The first movie that started our current comic-book movie craze, the original Batman directed by Captain Crazypants (love you, man), had one hero (the Batman, by Michael Keaton when he had hairs), one villain (the Joker by that dude from THE SHINING) and Alec Baldwin’s ex-wife No. 2 or whatever as the girl for Batman to kiss.

BATMAN RETURNS had two villains: Danny Devito in a fat suit, munching on raw fish, plus Christopher Walken with crazy hair, while the love interest was Michelle Pfeiffer rocking a catsuit.

BATMAN FOREVER featured Val “Top Gun” Kilmer as Batman, some man from Grays Anatomy as Robin, Jim Carrey going insane in a green bodysuit as Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones trying to camp it up as Two Face–so yes, so technically, this third movie in the series didn’t have three villains, but it’s a hot mess of a reboot directed by Joel Schumacher, so all bets are off.

BATMAN AND ROBIN gave us two sidekicks (Robin again and a Clueless blonde famous for being in Aerosmith videos) plus three villains: Arnold in a neon suit spouting his worst one-liners ever, Uma Thurman wasted as Poison Ivy and Bane as a walk-on. This film was also directed by Joel Schumacher and is an even bigger mess than his first one.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The rebooted and awesome Christian Bale-Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman movies wisely veered away from the Hollywood formula of “For every new movie in a superhero series, pile on more villains and sidekicks until we have to reboot this train wreck.”

BATMAN BEGINS had two villains: Qui-Gon Jinn as Ra’s al Ghul (nobody can pronouce either name, so don’t even try) and Mr. Pretty Face himself, Cillian Murphy, doing an amazing Scarecrow, and yes, he was rumored to be in the running to play Bruce Wayne in the first place. Keanu Reeves would say, “Whoah,” except guess who turned down THE MATRIX to do some other movie? Will Smith. DOUBLE-WHOAH.

THE DARK KNIGHT gave us the two best acting performances for comic book villains ever, with Heath Ledger nailing the Joker and Aaron Eckhart rocking as Two Face.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES could have three villains, if you count the cameo by Scarecrow, but let’s go with two and say Bane plus the sneaky Miranda Tate, daughter of Qui-Gon Jinn, and let’s give credit to Anne Hathaway as the best love interest ever for Batman.

So what can we learn from all this?

Hollywood executives, please pour your energies and not into hiring three different screenwriters for $2 million apiece to rewrite these train wrecks, but focus from the start on a simple truth: the more villains and sidekicks you throw into a script, the less you get out of them.

Why Hollywood is plagued by The Invincible Hero problem

Now that the Avengers have assembled into a giant machine that prints dollar bills, the X-Men are getting rebooted and Batman/Superman are teaming up to create billions more for an entirely different set of studio executives who live across the street from the Marvel folks, there’s something we need to discuss.

Because there’s a common problem with all of these movies–except for Batman, and we’ll get to that.

The Invincible Hero problem.

I’ve seen all three movies involving Thor and his hammer, and yes, the hammer has some crazy Norse name, and even though I’m a Swede nobody knows how to really pronounce the thing. IT’S A HAMMER.

Those movies are fun, and great, but tell me this: how do you hurt Thor, or kill him?

Because I don’t have a clue.

So there’s hundreds of millions of dollars in CGI explosions happening, and Iron Man grabbing Thor to fly him into trees and a cliff and such, but all amazing special effects that cost more than my house and your house and every dollar we’ll ever make in our lifetime, well, they don’t really move me, because I’m never worried about Thor being injured or killed.

You can throw the man around, blow him up, stab him with Loki’s sneaky dagger, punch him with the Hulk, and none of that really matters. The only proven way to hurt Thor is to remove Natalie Portman from the picture.

The first Thor movie was better than the sequel because for a good chunk of it Thor didn’t have his powers. He was just a man who could get hurt, lose a fight or even die, and it was his willingness to sacrifice himself and die that made Odin restore his powers.

See, when a hero is invincible, you don’t worry about them. And when you don’t worry about them, you stop caring about bullets and thugs and whatever else the villain is throwing around.

Superman is the worst offender. When you look at heroes on the screen like Wolverine and Captain America, they don’t seem to get hurt, since both guys regenerate and such. But they’re powers aren’t crazy like the boy from Krypton, who can (a) run faster than a speeding bullet, (b) fly, including going into space without needing to breathe, (c) shoot heat rays from his eyes when they’re not (d) busy taking x-rays of your bones, (e) ice anything with frost breath, (f) move so fast he GOES BACK IN TIME and (g) 17 other powers I don’t have time to list.

When you’re so powerful and invincible that tank shells bounce off your skin (Superman, Hulk) or armored suit (Iron Man), it’s hard to ramp things up without jumping the shark. Should we have Hulk get hit by a comet, or throw Superman into a black hole to see what happens? Also, no barber could cut Superman’s hair or trim his beard, right? He’d look like the lost fourth member of ZZ Top.

Batman is a better, more interesting hero because he’s simply a man. You know his bones can break, that the villain can truly hurt or kill him. It matters.

Hollywood could fix this problem, if it cared to, by setting up in each of these bazillion-dollar stories not just how cool the hero is and what amazing things he or she can do.

Tell us, up front in Act 1, what the hero can’t do. Show us a few weaknesses and how they can get hurt or even killed. Because then in Act 2 and 3, we’ll care a lot more about those CGI explosions and bullets as part of the story instead of eye candy that doesn’t really affect the story.

OBLIVION swings for the fences and misses

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Hear me now and believe me later in the week: OBLIVION is an interesting and beautiful movie that could have been classic.

Why did it flop?

Let’s look at the prime suspects:

5) Tom Cruise fatigue

This is an easy target. Cruise has gone from “Biggest Movie Star on the Planet” to “Incredibly Excited Actor Jumping on Oprah’s Couch” to “Scientologist Who Gets Divorced a Lot.”

As a huge fan of Lee Child’s Reacher novels, I have to say that Reacher is something like 6’5, 250, blond and quietly sarcastic, while Cruise is short, light, dark-haired and loudly cocky.

HOWEVER: I will give the man his due, because Cruise did a fine job of acting in this movie. The average sci-fi apocalypse movie would have a hot new 20-something actor mumble his way through the thing looking stoned while trying to seem macho. Cruise was an upgrade from the typical New Action Hunk.

You could’ve put Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling or George Clooney in this sucker and it wouldn’t solve the problem. Cruise gets a pass.

 

4) Double mumbo-jumbo

Screenwriter Blake Snyder (may he rest in peace) says in SAVE THE CAT that audiences will buy one crazy piece of magic or sci-fi. They’ll buy a giant robot assassins with heavy Austrian accents or they’ll buy witches with real magic powers–but they won’t suspend disbelief to see a movie featuring magical witches battling a robot assassin.

Audiences might buy sci-fi techno stuff mixed in with a little magic if you distract them with lightsabers and don’t try to over-explain the magical stuff. But if you start talking like an idiot about the magic being caused by science, say something insane like “midi-chloridians,” they will turn on you, and hate you for ruining things forever.

OBLIVION throws all kinds of stuff in here: an apocalypse, an alien invasion, evil robot drones, massive human cloning, frozen astronauts who are 85 years old or whatever plus and a serious fetish for spiffy helicopter-things.

All of this, however, is under the happy umbrella of technology. Even the craziest stuff seems plausible given the setting of the movie. Also: Cruise should spend his salary from this movie to make a working replica of his helicopter-jet thing, which I’m gonna call the Tom-mobile.

 

3) Insanely confusing plot

This is a good suspect. While the movie technically avoid the double mumbo-jumbo trap because it’s all science, there are enough plot threads to weave a throw rug.

We’ve got dream sequences in black-and-white, Morgan Freeman channeling Morpheus by way of Mad Max, some Minority Report flavorings and a dozen other subplots thrown into the blender.

Even so, the director holds it together. You understand it. So the confusing parts of the plot aren’t what keeps this movie from being an instant classic.

 

2) Happy endings are for suckers

The ending is happy, which fanboys never like. Tom Cruise Clone #1 and the dying Morgan Freeman blow themselves up in the mothership of the aliens, saving the world, and later we see Tom Cruise Clone # 2 finding his wife and baby daughter.

Reunited and it feels so good. Except it doesn’t feel great.

 

1) The villain

There are three parts to a villain, which I’m making that up right now.

Let’s call it Guy’s First Law of Villainy, which states villains must be motivated, fascinating and scary.

Motivated: If your villain is simply doing bad things for no reason, it’s nonsensical.

This is a huge problem with OBLIVION, since these aliens invading Earth go through all kinds of trouble to (a) find Earth in the first place, (b) travel a bazillion light years to get to our precious rock orbiting the sun, (c) wage a long and brutal war to gain control of the planet so they can … (d) suck up all the water in our oceans to create nuclear fusion or whatever.

Hold up.

Water is no big flipping deal. Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Oxygen isn’t exactly rare. You can find water on asteroids, comets and planets. There’s some moon orbiting Jupiter or Saturn that we think is a giant ball of water with a frozen crust of ice on top.

I don’t buy aliens going through massive amounts of trouble to steal our water. Sci-fi needs to make sense, because sci-fi fans are smart people who care about this stuff. So this is a huge problem.

Fascinating and scary:

If you’re going to have an alien invasion movie, don’t forget the aliens.

OBLIVION has no aliens. I kid you not.

It has all kinds of drones, which look like angry flying cousins of Pac Man, yet tiny little drones aren’t scary of fascinating. Give us big, threatening bad guys, not cute little ones.

Who is the ultimate villain of the movie? A big faceless computer.

That’s not fascinating or scary. At all.

To make this movie work, we needed amazing aliens, the kind that are incredibly fun to watch. ALIEN got this right, as did ALIENS.

PROMETHEUS forgot about this rule, and therefore wasted the gross domestic product of Paraguay on Michael Fassbender and special effects for no good reason.

This is the reason OBLIVION failed as an alien invasion classic: no aliens. You can’t expect audiences to go wild for a boring, faceless computer as the bad guy.

It’s the same trap that doomed THE MATRIX sequels. We never saw Neo battle the ultimate bad guy in charge of the machines. He died playing anti-virus cleaner for the machine lords, which put the B in Boring.

Top 5 reasons BREAKING BAD was insanely good

Gus goes out in style.

The usual reasons don’t cut it.

BREAKING BAD wasn’t great because of brilliant cinematography, writing and acting, though Bryan Cranston deserves an Oscar or three instead of an Emmy.

It wasn’t great because of the gritty subject matter. In fact, it was successful in spite of the topic of meth dealers, which made many people not even give the show a chance.

Let’s dive deep, and dig hard, into what really made this show so different and so flipping good.

Heisenberg's hat.
Heisenberg’s hat.

 

5) A complete story

In the normal world, 99.9 percent of TV shows cling to life from week to week. The creators and actors are happy if the pilot gets funded and made, then nibble on a diet of fingernails to see if a network picks up the first season.

Then they live in fear of not getting a second season. If they get a second season, they stay up all night worrying about some network executive moving their show to a night and time that guarantees doom, or keeping their show in the same slot only to have it slayed in the rating by some hot new thing from CBS or HBO.

Successful shows have different problems. Lead actors who were nobodies can suddenly do no wrong and start demanding the GDP of Spain per episode, or bail from the silly little show that turned them into a star to make a go at movies.

The ending of a series is often sudden. There’s no time to wrap up the series with a true finale.

Even when a series has time for a planned ending, you often get something muddled and maudlin, like a retrospective. Or the writers do something artistic and ambiguous (SOPRANOS facepalm) or go all the way and pull a LOST, causing us to curse their names for eternity.

 

 

4) Real character arcs

If you look at the pilot and the last episode of most TV shows, the characters are broadly painted archetypes who have barely changed, if at all. Unless they left the show.

Think of the average sitcom. There’s some kind of goofy situation involving (a) your average suburban family or (b) some institution the sitcom pokes fun at, whether it’s military hospitals during the Korean war, a hospital in Seattle full of dreamy surgeons, a hospital in Chicago or a hospital somewhere else. There are antics and jokes and some kind of moral lesson. Then everything gets fixed.

Same thing with dramas, which don’t always involve hospital ER’s. No. They also feature police, prosecutors and FBI profilers. With your average drama series, there’s a formula: bad guys do something bad, good guys arrive at the crime scene, bad guys lead them on a chase, good guys catch them.

Events change. Things happen. But characters don’t really change. You could watch these shows in any order.

BREAKING BAD is quite different. It let us see how different characters suffered and changed in reaction to the deepest adversity.

Gus, Hank, Mike, Jesse, Skylar, every major character suffers and changes. Gus alone would be worth his own spinoff prequel, as would Mike.

 

3) Chekhov’s gun

The way Vince Gilligan and his writing room use setups and payoffs is beyond beautiful. And here’s the kicker: they didn’t sit down and make a master plan.

They improvised.

Not once or twice at key moments. All the time.

Gilligan and his writers are true believers in Chekhov’s gun, the storytelling law that if you show your audience a gun in Act 1, that gun better go off before curtains fall on Act 3.

When they showed us a bearded Walt with a machine gun in his trunk in a flash forward at the beginning of Season 5, they didn’t know what Walt would do with that machine gun in the finale, only that it would get used.

They also improvised entire characters, such as walk-ons like Gus, who turned into keystones for the series. That wasn’t planned.

Uncle Jack and the Nazi’s? Not planned.

They improvised like crazy, and often used flash-backs and flash-forwards to do it. Which is the opposite of most shows, movies and books, which use flask-backs and flash-forwards for boring exposition.

 

2) The Hero

Walt is an interesting hero because he’s different and flawed.

Most heroes are too perfect. They’re untouchable tough guys who never lose a fight, brilliant scientists who can catch serial killers with a scrap of DNA off a cigarette butt or charming goofs with hearts of gold.

Sure, you get some anti-heroes, but are you really surprised by a cynical lone-wolf hero with an allergy to razors, a haunted past and trouble with the bottle?

Walt started out as an average dad in the suburbs, middle-aged and beaten-down. He’s not a hero, not even to his wife and kids. He’s nobody.

What made people root for Walt was his drive to change. He could’ve taken the easy way out, gone to hospice and died. Fighting inoperable lung cancer was a brave choice, regardless of how he got the money.

Unlike typical heroes, Walt couldn’t win fights with his fists. He had to use his brains.

 

1) The Villain

Who’s the villain of BREAKING BAD?

Because that’s the real secret, the number one reason this show was so great.

There’s no shortage of suspects.

Mike, Tuco, Skylar, Jesse, Todd, Lydia, Uncle Jack–there’s a case to be made for all of those characters being the ultimate villain of the show.

The top two might be Gus and Hank.

Gus was an incredible adversary. He seemed invincible right up to the point Hector made his crazy eyebrow face and started dinging that bell.

Hank was an antagonist from the other end, betrayed by his own brother-in-law. Walt chose to break the law, and while Hank made bad jokes, he was a pretty pure force for good on a show filled with people wearing black hats.

Gus and Hank, though, aren’t the real villain.

Walt is. He was the danger, the one who knocks.

He’s the hero and villain, which is why this was such a great show. BREAKING BAD is a tragedy, with hubris bringing the downfall of Walt, who admitted as much in his last conversation with Skylar.

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really–I was alive.”

Can you think of another TV show, movie or series of books that took a tragedy this far, this long? I can’t. There’s a possible case for all six STAR WARS movies depicting the rise, fall and redemption of Darth Vader, but that angle of the story is thrown together and sloppy, like something bolted onto a pile of droid parts by drunken Ewoks.

Other shows, movies and books suffer for lack of a single villain. Instead, they give audiences stories about (a) Villains of the Week who you know are doomed, (b) a multitude of villains, especially if this is a series of movies based on comic books, with one villain in the first movie, two in the second and three villains in the third movie before the reboot or (c) no real villain at all, with the show–usually a sitcom–about the crazy antics of a family, group of friends or office.

BREAKING BAD is about the struggle for Walt’s soul, the pull of good and evil, love and revenge, going out fully alive no matter how many dead bodies pile up versus fading away with a whimper.

That struggle happens right up until the end. There are no easy outs, no simple answers. And that’s why this show will be remembered and cherished.

THE AVENGERS + THE BREAKFAST CLUB = AWESOMESAUCE

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

What did we do before YouTube was invented?

THE BREAKFAST CLUB is a classic coming-of-age movie, which involves a jock, a prom princess, a geek, a stoner and a freak. THE AVENGERS is the same, except the kids are all grown up, have fancier toys and bigger issues, as this beautiful mashup makes clear.

I DID IT MY WAY by Walter White (Br Ba)

Heisenberg's hat.

BREAKING BAD is the best thing on the Glowing Tube, by far — that’s the consensus of all kinds of critics and smart peoples on this rock circling the sun. The thing has its own subreddit, just like Batman and catsstandingup — that’s how big it is.

Who could’ve predicted the actor who played Hal on Malcolm in the Middle would transform into this amazing character, Walter White?

And this mashup here, of Walter White singing the old Sinatra — well, it doesn’t get any better than this.

I tip my hat to actor Bryan Cranston and the whole BREAKING BAD team. Amazing work on an amazing series.

The most epic movie trailer mashup OF ALL TIME

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

This man named Vadzim Khudabets edits movie trailers for a living. So he took 99 movies trailers and stitched them all together into this masterpiece of summer movie awesomesauce.