Why was FREE GUY fun but unfulfilling?

Yes, my name is Guy, and I watched FREE GUY the second day it hit theaters, as required by Guy Law.

Is it worth watching in a theater? Sure. This is a fun summer movie. But that’s not the most interesting question.

The acid test for a movie, even a summer action film or comedy, is simple: Would I watch it again?

And listen, we can make that test far more accurate and meaningful. Here’s how:

  1. How much would I pay to watch it again, and again?
    versus
  2. How much would you need to PAY ME to watch the thing one more time?

There are plenty of films that are worth watching once and never again. The movies that are rewatchable are golden nuggets of cinema worth treasuring forever.

Here are two examples, both somewhat similar to FREE GUY:

BOSS LEVEL is worth watching again and again, because I have literally watched it five-point-seven bazillion times.

Why is it worth two hours of your life, repeatedly? Because it mixes action with comedy so well, and has moments–like the sword training and fight scene–that never get old.

Similarly, THE EDGE OF TOMORROW is a movie that you can watch again and again. The more you hate Tom Cruise as an actor, the more you like this movie, seeing how you get to watch him die a ton of times in a war zone before he redeems himself. Also, Emily Blunt is a total badass in this thing.

FREE GUY is thankfully an original script and not a movie based on an actual video game or ancient board game like BATTLESHIP, which they actually got Liam Neeson to do a movie about, for the love of all that is holy.

Yet despite being fun, there’s something missing when you walk out of that theater after watching FREE GUY.

Here’s what I think that missing thing is: you can’t buy the ending, no matter how much bubblegum ice cream they pile on it.

Spoilers galore from here out.

So the key relationship is between Guy and Millie, with Guy not realizing he’s in a video game and Millie looking like a supermodel inside and outside the game.

In the end, they do NOT get together, because Guy is just an AI with a pretty digital face, so Guy becomes single and Millie gets together with…Annoying Tech Dweeb.

Listen, this doesn’t work on a number of levels. The audience WANTS Guy and Millie to get together for real. They do not, in any part of their popcorn-munching bodies, want Millie to hook up with Annoying Tech Dweeb.

Honestly, real-life Millie is beautiful enough to get pretty much any man she wants. It’s not believable that she settles for a man she ignored for years despite his blatant crush on her.

How could we fix the ending and the movie?

First, we don’t need three Tech Gurus — Annoying Tech Dweeb, his sidekick, and Millie are all coders.

You need one coder in this movie, and that’s Millie, so we can safely axe the other two characters. I mean, put a gun to my head and I cannot remember either one of their names. THAT IS A SIGN, RYAN REYNOLDS AND SCREENWRITING PEOPLE.

The other stakes were whether Millie and Annoying Tech Dweeb won their intellectual property battle with Korg, and listen, I didn’t not care about that at all.

Second, there’s only one true romantic question built up in this movie, and that’s whether Millie and Guy get together.

Third, how do we give the audience what they want–Millie and Guy actually getting together–in a way they don’t expect?

Here’s how: you go MATRIX or TRON LEGACY.

The MATRIX path has Neo take the right pill (I don’t know if it’s red or blue and do not care, sorry) and enter the Matrix so he can hang out with Trinity.

If he stayed in what he saw as the real world, there’d be no future with her. Zero. None. Nada.

The TRON LEGACY option means going the opposite route and taking somebody (Olivia Wilde!) from the digital world to the real world.

So let’s pick one of those options: you make Guy a real Guy or bring Millie into the digital world.

Turning the digital Ryan Reynolds into a real-life Ryan is the easy and expected choice. The more surprising and deep thing would be making the stakes more real for Millie and going digital for her.

Give her a ticking clock–a deadly cancer, say–and have her desperately needing the servers and such to upload her consciousness into FREE CITY to survive.

High stakes now, right? And that would be an ending that stuck with audiences.

The one where Pam overwrites THE DARK KNIGHT

There’s a key lesson in here for writers of any sort, whether you’re doing journalism in Papers of News, writing one-act plays that begin and end with ten minutes of silence, or banging on the keyboard for the next Great American Novel, except you’re in New Zealand, and think the whole concept of the Great American Novel is sillypants.

Pam sums it up like this: “Less is more.”

She’s right. Also, bonus points for the assignment at the end of this video. Too funny.

P.S. Yes, I know the first trailer for THE BATMAN is out. No, I will not dissect it, because 94,230 superfans have already watched it, frame by frame, to look for specific pixels that might give them an easter egg or theory that nobody else thought about yet. But yeah, I liked it. Looking forward to seeing that, and other movies, in actual movie theaters next year with overpriced popcorn and sticky floors and all the things that I miss.

THE MECHANIC is a clinic in betrayals, the beating heart of thrillers

the mechanic starring jason statham directed by simon west

You can make all sorts of academic arguments about how many stories there are. One: the hero’s journey. Two: tragedies and comedies. Ten, if you read SAVE THE CAT and see what primeval stories ring true. Plus plenty of other books and storytelling gurus and academics who will happily explain why there are actually 36 stories, or 100.

With action movies, I’d argue there are clearly some distinct types:

Monster in the House–You’re trapped in an enclosed space with a monster, and either it’s gonna kill you or you’re gonna kill it. There’s no escape, no calling the cops, no trickery. This is a great situation and I’d argue ALIEN (supposedly sci-fi), FATAL ATTRACTION (pigeon-holed as domestic drama), and JAWS (mislabeled horror) are all actually Monster in the House.

A key difference between these stories and horror: the monster dies. In true horror stories, the monster is actually punishing everybody for their sins (teenagers drinking, doing drugs, having sex, or scientists playing God) and everybody dies in the end. Only the monster returns for the sequels.

Disaster–A volcano is about to go off, a giant asteroid will hit the planet, or a climate change means Kevin Costner’s movie WATERWORLD is a prophecy. This type of movie ends one of three ways: (a) the hero stops the disaster (ARMAGEDDON), (b) the hero can’t stop it but gets everybody out of the burning lava, or (c) this is really a horror movie and the disaster can’t be stopped because we’re being punished for our sins.

Related: WATERWORLD was a prophecy, so get your sweet sailboat ready

War–You can’t get a setting with more conflict and action than a war zone, though war movies are often actually about other things with the war truly being the setting and backdrop. Pure war movies are about fighting the good fight and punching Nazis in the nose, or defeating an invasion of aliens by flying your F-16 straight up into the death beam after the president gives an amazing speech. Anti-war movies (PLATOON) are about making people cautious about getting dragged into a mistake, or fighting wars for the wrong reasons.

Rescue–I don’t know who you are. I don’t have any money. What I do have is a certain set of skills.

Betrayal–This is beating heart of thrillers, especially ones that don’t rely on Jason Statham finding creative ways of kicking people in the face. Betrayal from within is a tough, tough story, and there’s plenty of tension and storytelling goodness involved. Using betrayal in an action movie is a wonderful way to spice up the typically predictable plots of most action stories.

Which brings us to THE MECHANIC, an under-rated action movie directed by Simon West, who also helmed WILD CARD, perhaps Statham’s most interesting movie.

Related: Top 4 reasons why WILD CARD is the best Jason Statham action movie ever

Why betrayals work so well

What this film does so well is piling up layer upon layer of betrayals.

Your average action film has zero.

A decent one may have a big betrayal right before the climax, something you really did not see coming.

THE MECHANIC shows us how smart storytelling, with early setups, can matter far more than a film’s CGI budget.

This movie starts with a betrayal that leads to Statham being tricked into killing his mentor. And that leads the dead man’s son to Statham, seeking solace and revenge, not knowing it was Statham who pulled the trigger. What’s great is we don’t know until late that the mentor was set up, the evidence against him faked, so Statham genuinely felt remorse. That guilt doesn’t go away when he learns the truth, because it doesn’t change the fact he shot his friend, false pretenses or not.

So it’s beautiful in the end that the son, after helping take out the bad guys, still can’t let go of the fact that his new friend killed his father, and tries to take him out by blowing up his truck when they stop for gas. Even better are the setups–and they are plural, for they are legion–of how the son goes back to Statham’s house, full of dead bad guys, and does everything Statham told him to never do: turn on his fancy record player and drive the red sports car he’s always fixing up and never using.

The car and house blow up, along with the son, and all of this feels about right. Statham didn’t go out of his way to kill the son, not even after the attempt on his life. Wouldn’t seem correct since he did take the man’s father. The son only dies through hubris.

There are more betrayals in this movie, I kid you not, and they’re all set up correctly. None of that nonsense where a film shows a payoff, then explains the setup with a flashback scene THAT YOU NEVER SAW BEFORE.

VERDICT

11/10, an excellent movie that starts strong and ends stronger, with deautiful twists you do not see coming.

 

Top 4 reasons why WILD CARD is the best Jason Statham action movie ever

Listen: I have watched all kinds of movies, from black-and-white French existentialism to popcorn blockbusters, and my list includes Every Action Movie Known to Man–so if there’s a Jason Statham movie I haven’t watched, that’s only because THEY ARE STILL SHOOTING IT RIGHT NOW.

And there’s a little known movie of his, WILD CARD, which is the hands-down champion of anything he’s ever done.

Counter-intuitive Reason No. 4: Not the fights

You can count on one hand the Statham movies that do not feature tons of amazing fights, where instead he just helps rob a bank and such, and maybe punches THREE people. These movies exist. I have seen them. THE ITALIAN JOB (remake), THE BANK JOB (looks like the ’70s, is not). There is a list.

It is entirely possible, and conventionally smart, to rank typical Jason Statham movies on the quality and creativity of the battles.

That isn’t what makes WILD CARD stand out. The fight scenes aren’t 10 times better. They’re quite good, sure, but that isn’t it. Here’s the big casino brawl. Nicely done.

However, THE TRANSPORTER is packed with some of the best action ever filmed. Ding dong.

Reason No. 3: The writing

This is a big part of the appeal of WILD CARD, which deserved a bigger box office and more attention.

Most thrillers–movies or novels–are pretty linear. A to B to C, straight line. Evil men are doing evil things and we need a hero who can match them, whether it’s spy vs spy or fist vs fist.

The writer for this movie is William Freaking Goldman, who wrote a novel this film is based on and also dabbled in screenplays since, I don’t know, 1965. Wrote a few little films like ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN and THE PRINCESS BRIDE and five billion others.

So yeah, Jason Statham will never get a better screenwriter for one of his moves. Ever. And the quality shows, start to finish.

Instead of an A-B-C storyline, where everything is on-the-nose, Goldman starts with a fakeout. We see Statham being a jerk to a man and his girlfriend in a bar, and it isn’t until a few scenes later that it’s clear he got paid to bully the man and lose a fight in the alley to boost the man’s prospects with his girlfriend. The whole movie is like this, with setups and payoffs interwoven with subtext and subtlety. You just don’t get that in your average action movie.

Reason No. 2: The director

Yes, you can make a case that Luc Besson and Jason Statham were born to make movies together, with Luc’s gonzo style goosing up Statham’s dry delivery and humor.

Simon West isn’t quite on the god-tier level of William Goldman, though he’s got an action-movie pedigree a mile long. The man directed CON AIR, THE MECHANIC (another Statham film), and the original Rick Roll video, NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP. I kid you not.

Writer and director are 90 percent of the battle, and in this case, it was the right decision to run in the opposite direction of Luc Besson and gonzo. Simon West went with gritty, and it works.

Reason No. 1: Letting the hero be clever

I know, I know–every hero should be smart, right? Except this doesn’t typically happen in thrillers and action movies.

Hero see problem. Hero smash!

Did that not work? Smash different way?

Not work? Smash harder!!!

There’s a huge, quiet, and tense scene where Statham is in deep trouble. Baby, a Vegas mob boss, brings him in about two murders. His fingerprints are on the gun (true). In an ordinary action movie, the solution to this problem is Statham kicks a thug, punches another dude in the throat, and jumps down an elevator shaft with the cable wrapped around Baby’s throat.

Except that’s stupid, and not really an option. Statham knows he can’t fight his way out of this. Even if he somehow killed everybody in the room, Baby’s organization would not shrug and say, “Okay, you win, go on with your bad self.” They would hunt him down, and he would die.

So I really found this scene to be different and beautiful. The one setup you need to know is the bad guy accusing Statham raped a friend of his, and Statham helped sneak her into the hotel to get a little revenge, and they didn’t actually kill anybody.

You have to love Baby’s dialogue in this scene. Normal action films would be on the nose, with Baby saying, “Yeah, I believe him over you. Get outta here before I change my mind and tell Junior to put one between your eyes.” Baby’s polite, understated menace and sarcasm is far more frightening than a tough guy who has to yell and threaten people.

VERDICT

Every year, Hollywood, Bollywood, and other movie-making centers of the world spend $459.3 bazillion dollars producing action movies, with $458 bazillion going to CGI and special effects and $0.00001 bazillion paid to the screenwriters.

WILD CARD is a tremendous argument that you can produce far better movies in this genre by reversing that ratio. I don’t believe there is a single frame of CGI in this thing. Doesn’t need it.

Kudos to Simon West, Jason Statham, and the legend known as William Goldman–we will never have another like him.

Writing secret: What two-sentence stories can teach us all

Maybe you’re writing a 140,000-word epic about a time-traveling Wookie who kills Hitler and invents the polio vaccine. Or you’re cranking out 500-word stories for a Paper of News.

Doesn’t matter.

Less is always, always more.

Nobody complains about a speech being too short, or a movie ending too soon. Always leave the audience wanting more, and always cut whatever you can. A word, a sentence, an entire scene that’s repetitive because we already saw the Wookie find that double-bladed lightsaber which she used to impress the British major-general and let her board the first landing craft at Normandy.

It works in the opposite direction, too. Headlines and hooks can’t be 100 words–you’re talking a sentence or two. Pitches, blurbs, dialogue, just about everything you can think of benefits from stripping away the fat to reveal sleek, practical, essential muscle.

Once you strip it all away, it becomes clear how great writing works and bad writing falls off the Cliff of Despair and tumbles into the Pit of Absolute Rubbish.

The easiest places to see this? Two sentence stories.

Check out these five, then we’ll chat.

Number 1, The Classic

I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, “Daddy check for monsters under my bed.”

I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, “Daddy there’s somebody on my bed.”

Author unknown, and yes, this version is a little wordy. Let’s cut it down.

 

“Daddy, check for monsters under my bed.”

I peeked under the cover and my son stared back as he whispered, “Daddy, there’s somebody on my bed.”

 

Every father’s nightmare. You’ll do anything to protect your sons and daughters. How would you handle this impossible choice?

Number 2

“Now be careful, that line of rock salt is the only thing keeping them out,” the man said, welcoming my group into his refuge.

“Sea salt,” I clarified, “sea salt keeps us out.”
https://www.reddit.com/user/bookseer/

This is good, right? A great setup for a horror movie. Bring it.

Number 3

Bullets flew through the mall, ripping clothes to shreds.

In the chaos, no one noticed the mannequins bleeding.
https://www.reddit.com/user/proffessorbiscuit/

Did not see this coming. At all. Well played, Professor Biscuit.

Number 4

The sound of my son calling for my help grew fainter and fainter.

As the batteries in my hearing aides died, I realized it would soon be impossible for me to find him in time.
https://www.reddit.com/user/minithemermaid/

 

The first three are fantasy and unrealistic.

This one is quite real, and I believe it’s scarier because of it.

Number 5

“I forgot to grab something, I’ll be right back,” said Mom.

As she rounded the corner, out of sight, the cashier began ringing up our groceries.
https://www.reddit.com/user/undflight/

Here we go: comedy instead of horror. We’ve all felt that stab of panic as our wife, husband, son or mother leaves you in line at Safeway or Costco “to grab something real quick,” then you stand there, waiting forever as the person in front of you finishes checking out and you empty your cart onto the belt slower and slower as there is absolutely no sign of them, and the checker starts giving you the side eye because there are four people waiting behind your slow butt, so what is your problem, so where are there, did they get lost or kidnapped, and should you leave the line to save them from a serial killer only to get embarrassed when they show up with that bottle of white wine they were looking for? WHERE ARE THEY, AND SHOULD WE CALL THE POLICE?

So yeah, this one is funny, and a little horrific, because we have all been there. And will be there again.

What two-sentence stories can teach us all

Every genre of writing tends to get wrapped up in its own pet jargon, theories, practices, and templates.

A news story has to use the inverted pyramid. Every press release needs a first-graf lede, then a quote in the second graf. Detective heroes are alcoholic loner rebels paired up with a square sidekick who has a family.

Two-sentence stories toss all of that and return us to the basics.

The first sentence is a setup, making us curious about what happens next.

In the second sentence, we get the payoff.

That’s it.

Comedians are doing the same thing, which is why most jokes are two-sentences. All you need is a setup and a payoff.

Sure, it helps to add more flourishes, and a longer story–or joke–can have a greater payoff.

Look again at those four examples. There isn’t a single name to any character, no description of their age, hair, face, body, backstory. Zero.

Because you don’t need those things to generate interest.

Homework

Do some two-sentence stories. A joke, a horror story, a shocking idea. Whatever.

Then take whatever you’re writing and boil it down to two sentences. Setup and payoff.

Note: making each sentence 400 words is not okay, Cheaty McCheatypants.

HEIST is a master class in tying character arcs to plot twists

As a public service, I’ve watched 99.9 percent of everything on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Whatever Blu-Rays are Inside that Shoebox I Found in Yonder Cupboard.

HEIST is what I saw last night, and (1) yes, it’s worth sending radiation at dried corn kernels for you to snack on while watching this thing, and (2) there are interesting storytelling techniques we’re going to talk smack about here on this website blog WordPress thing.

Because I care about you, this is the trailer:

So yes, you’ve got Negan (whoa!), Drax the Destroyer (double-whoa!!), and Robert-Freaking-DeNiro (you lie!!!) in the same movie? Plus Gina Carano? NO WAY.

Way.

Here’s the thing that I want to talk about: each of these characters has a distinct arc, one that not only works by itself, but is a vital part of the twists and reversals that serve as the V-8 engine of this story.

  • Negan is the hero with a deadline, an Army vet and card dealer who needs to find $400,000 by 7 p.m. on Friday for his daughter’s cancer treatment.
  • Drax the Destroyer is the casino security guard with the idea of robbing the place, and the one running the job.
  • Robert DeNiro is the cut-throat businessman who owns the casino and is (a) estranged from his daughter, his only family, and (b) dying of cancer.
  • Gina Carano is the cop chasing Negan and Drax in their getaway bus.

That’s right, a getaway bus. Remember SPEED, with Neo stuck on a bus that can’t go less than 55 or the bus and all its passengers go boom? This movie isn’t a straight ripoff. Being stuck on the bus, though, with the cops surrounding you, is a great premise. They run out of diesel once, and have to work around that. The cops shoot out a tire. There are just all sorts of great problems presented by being stuck on that bus.

But I want to talk about the intersection of the character arcs and story beats.

Negan improves the plans of Drax, who’s running the job, and he’s clearly smarter than the hothead Drax.

So it makes storytelling sense that instead of letting Drax kill a hostage–the bus driver–Negan shoots Drax instead.

Then it’s the bus driver who has the idea of how to get Negan off the bus while leading the bad detective (in the pay of Robert DeNiro) to chase the bus somewhere else.

To get the money off the bus, Negan uses a fake pregnant “hostage”–his sister–and makes sure she’s the first hostage released. Clever.

And when DeNiro spares Negan, shooting his hotheaded protege before he can kill the card dealer who stole his money, you believe it, because DeNiro has been questioning his path the whole movie, and this makes sense. He’s trying to do right by the world now.

Finally, you believe Gina’s police officer character looking the other way at the end, and letting Negan save his daughter, because it’s not a sudden change of heart. They’ve set this up with scene after scene where Negan and Gina both try to do the right thing, regardless of the personal cost, while Drax tries to MURDER DEATH KILL everything in sight.

There isn’t a lot of Christopher Nolan cheating going on here, storywise. The setups are all there if you look for them, or remember. I just enjoy how the character and story beats mesh so well, and when the revelations all hit at the end, it makes you impressed with Negan’s cleverness and selflessness and happy about DeNiro’s final acts and Gina’s compassion.

All of this is nice contrast to most action movies, where evil and bloody things happen to just about any character at any time, except for the hero, because everyone but the hero is basically a bad guy who’s gonna die or a sidekick type who’s also gonna die. I mean, come on. White Bearded Mentor Who’s Kinda Like Obiwan Crossed with Mr. Miyagi? Dead by the end of Act 1. Hot girlfriend, sweet wife, or cute little daughter? Kidnapped by the end of Act 2. Sidekick who’s there mostly for tech support and comic relief? Impaled on a swordfish at the beginning of Act. 3. Femme Fatale with a thing for the hero? Fed to the sharks with lasers right before the rooftop battle with the Final Boss.

VERDICT

HEIST is clever and entertaining movie that reminds me a lot of SHIMMER LAKE (a perfect movie, go watch it, DO IT NOW) in that you’re cheering on a good man doing wrong things for the right reasons. It’s free on Netflix so fire it up.

 

GUNS AKIMBO tests the Five Unwritten Laws of Action Movies

Unless you are allergic to 007, Jason Statham, and Jackie Chan–and somehow managed to dodge all 5,392 Marvel films–you’ve seen plenty of action movies.

GUNS AKIMBO is on the interwebs now, and it stars Daniel Radcliffe, so that automatically makes people like me perk up. Can a grown-up Potter carry an action movie, with zero wands and magic, and no Hermione to save him from hubris and idiocy? Will there be any sarcastic jokes or easter eggs referencing a villain who looks like a methed-up cousin of Voldemort? And does the movie work as entertainment?

Here’s the trailer, then let’s talk smack not just about this movie, but about how this film illustrates–for good and bad–the Five Unwritten Laws of Action Movies.

Interesting, right? The premise is good. You have an Average Joe sucked into an action movie in a plausible way, and he doesn’t have an easy out.

Those elements are the first three Unwritten Laws.

The First Unwritten Law of Action Movies: The Hero Cannot Be Superman

I don’t literally mean the Man of Steel, though talking about Supes can illustrate the extreme limits of how action movies go bad.

The more amazing and unbeatable you make the hero in the beginning, the less thrilling any action movie becomes. Superman is invincible, so it’s kinda impossible to worry about him getting hurt or killed, which absolutely murders any tension in the movie.

James Bond and other action movies keep breaking this law. They’re super tough, ice cold, and irresistible to the opposite sex from the first minute of the film, which not only kills tension–you know they’re gonna win–but it also destroys character growth, as in THERE IS NONE.

The acid test for a movie smashing the first law into itty bitty pieces is this: Is there a scene near the climax where our Ultracool Hero beats up and mows down a faceless army of bad guys before he gets to the Final Boss? You know the scene, because you see it all the time. Like this one.

Daniel Ratcliffe in this movie is definitely an Average Joe, completely unskilled compared to those he’s matched up against, so that ratchets up the tension. The question isn’t “how many bad guys will he mow down?” It’s, “How many minutes will Harry Potter With Guns survive?”

The Second Unwritten Law of Action Movies: Is This Plausible?

A lot of movies get the first law right, then immediately commit a Class B Storytelling Felony by having their Average Joe, an accountant from the suburbs, involved in a crazy plot involving Russian spies, the mafia, and a suitcase containing an alien artifact.

Whether the hero is a professional or amateur, the premise needs to be exciting, yet reasonable. If a gangster with his own private army kills your kung fu mentor, are you really going to take on and kill 300 armed criminals with your bare hands, on a rooftop in the rain? No. Not plausible. A movie that did this right was IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE. The hero is an average man who takes out the drug dealers who murdered his son, but he does it step-by-step in clever ways.

The Third Unwritten Law of Action Movies: Is There No Way Out?

It’s not just a cool Kevin Costner movie. IT’S A LAW.

Horror movies are notorious for this, but action movies aren’t far behind. If the hero could solve this easily, say by calling 911 or renting a car and driving the hell away, then it’s lazy storytelling.

GUNS AKIMBO does this right in a clever way by bolting guns on Harry Potter’s hands. He can’t get them off, can’t open doors, can’t put on pants. It’s terrifying and funny and works beautifully.

The Fourth Unwritten Law of Action Movies: The Villain Must Be Bigger, Badder, and Better

It’s an achy break big mistake to make the hero smarter, tougher, stronger, taller, or generally better than the villain. The villain needs to be (a) scary, and (b) the most deadly thing in the movie. Period.

You can see action movies that shatter this law all the time, with savage, scary henchmen who the hero struggles to beat. Then when he finally gets to the villain pulling the strings, that fight feels anti-climactic.

This is the opposite of the Superman problem. Go ahead and make your villain super. Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, the shark in Jaws, Thanos–all of those bad guys are great because they’re scary and tough one-on-one. They don’t need a bunch of minions to back them up.

The villain in this movie does sort resemble a methed-up and tattooed cousin of Voldemort, though I’m not sure that’s intentional. But he’s plenty scary, and definitely bigger, badder, and more deadly than Daniel Radcliffe’s character, so they do it right.

The Fifth Unwritten Law of Action Movies: The Best Scenes Go Last

There’s a great fight scene with Nix, the blonde killer, early in the movie. Then she sacrifices herself (yeah, spoiler alert) so Harry Potter can make it to the final boss battle.

Except her final scene is nothing compared to that earlier scene. It’s meh. Switch those around in the editing room and IT WOULD BE MAGIC.

The same is true for chases, witty dialogue, suspenseful moments–put the best last. Escalate up to the end.

VERDICT

Listen, it’s the year 2020, which the prophecy apparently foretold was the Apocalypse, except nobody warned us, so I know that you know that we’re all plumbing the depths of Netflix and Amazon Prime for decent things to watch.

GUNS AKIMBO commits a few misdemeanors, but it gets the big things right and is definitely worth watching.

GET UP by the Bingo Players is pure weirdness, but in a good way

It’s not hard to find weird music videos, mostly because (a) you can’t throw a rock on YouTube without smacking five different music vids and (b) musicians tend to play it really, really safe or truly let their freak flag fly. There’s no in-between.

This video is the good kind of weird. Watch, then let’s chat about why.

Okay, so that’s definitely something I hadn’t seen before: a music video where the heroes are a gang of ducks, getting revenge on an actual gang for their misdeeds.

And yeah, there are seventeen ways this video could’ve gone wrong. But I think it works.

They set things up properly by showing the human gang doing bad things, both to other humans and to the ducks, and the ducks starting to go into action, building up suspense. Then they paid all that off with a nice variety of surprising montage of Duck Vigilante Justice with a good sense of variety and surprise, escalating to a climax. I particularly liked the duck driver–a nice touch.

VERDICT

Yes, this video is definitely weird, but the risks paid off. Well done, Bingo Players.

The acid test for all writing

I believe, deep in my soul, that Zack Snyder-style gritty darkness isn’t bad simply because Zack Snyder directs it. Gritty Dark Dourness would be bad if the love child of Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock sat in the director’s chair.

And yes, it’s still fun to laugh at BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN: THE DAWN OF JUSTICE.

But there’s something smart and deeper behind the idea that the Marvel movies got things right by being (a) funny and (b) exciting, while the DC / Snyderverse went wrong by taking itself far too seriously and going Full Melodrama, with a color palette full of grays and blacks contrasted by grays and more blacks. You never go Full Melodrama, because it makes your audience feel like the movie’s being written and directed by a bipolar Michael Bay who’s crying in a corner when he’s not blowing stuff up.

And all this made me think.

Because comedy isn’t actually light and fluffy. True comedy points out how absurd and unfair the world is, and how you can’t fix it and have to laugh at the insanity of it all.

My proposition is this: adding comedy to a book or movie doesn’t make it light and lame kiddie fare. Interweaving comedy into whatever–an action movie (every Marvel movie ever), a romance (ROMANCING THE STONE and every rom-com), a mystery (SHIMMER LAKE is perfect perfect perfect, go watch it now on Netflix, kthxbai)–can make it infinitely better.

We were talking yesterday about our favorite books of high lit-rah-sure, and my favorites were CATCH-22, Kurt Vonnegut and the ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL books, because I’ll happily go back and re-read any of these. What do they have in common? They’re universally beloved, recognized as classics, and funny as hell.

But making you laugh isn’t their only trick, like a SNL skit that repeats itself 459 times in four minutes. The best storytellers serve us different courses for our emotions over the length of a movie or book. They don’t dish up sad scene after sad scene, or pile up joke after joke. You get an appetizer, a main course, side dishes and dessert. Not five appetizers in a row or a plate full of six desserts.

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL does this beautiful. The original book and its sequels are really short stories strung together. Each one, though, makes you feel a variety of emotions. Joy, sadness, laughter, love. You see the struggling young vet and the hard-scrabble farmers, and when an animal dies, or a sick cow makes it because a poor farmer stayed up all night tending to that animal, yeah, you might tear up.

That’s what makes us come back to those books and movies.

Not the plot points–we know what will happen. Not the writing.

We want to feel.

So that leads me to the acid test for me, as a writer. It’s how I know whether a draft is working or not.

Here’s the test: If I’m not tearing up, it’s not working.

Tears of joy, tears of laughter, tears of sadness–I better be feeling something as I write the ending. If I don’t, bring on the rewrite.

So yes, we can make fun of the dour, dark Snyderverse, and relentlessly depressing lit-rah-sure like THE ENGLISH PATIENT, where the scenery is beautiful and everybody’s rich and having affairs and in the end, everybody sells out to the Nazis and dies, the end, roll credits, and THROW SILVERWARE AT THE SCREEN BECAUSE THIS IS STUPID.

What do you want the audience to feel?

That’s the real question. And you have to feel it first.

Should you fire up Netflix and watch EUROVISION SONG CONTEST?

Listen: comedy is incredibly hard. Maybe the hardest thing when it comes to storytelling and entertainment. Because you have to take risks, and most of those gambles won’t pay off.

This is why movies coming out of Saturday Night Live alums are hit-and-miss. A joke that gets stale and repetitive during a three-minute sketch is just about impossible to stretch into a 120-minute movie.

I swear the best comedies are made in the editing suite–throw 100 things at the wall, go wild, and have the editor and director pick the 10 things that really work while chucking the other 90.

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST may seem like one of those skits, something that might be hilarious for one song and painful to sit through for an entire movie. Check out the trailer.

I’m happy to say the opposite is true. This is fresh, funny, and surprisingly good.

The movie is set in Iceland, which needs to be featured more. It’s a wild place. Having visited there, it’s nice to see it in a major movie.

And while this is a comedy, the ending is excellent and surprisingly moving. TEARS MAY BE SHED. I won’t spoil it all by including the final song. Instead, here’s VOLCANO MAN, a great appetizer for the movie.

VERDICT

You’ve already burned through everything else on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and your brother’s DVD collection.

Give EUROVISION SONG CONTEST a go–it won’t disappoint.