What Thor was doing during CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

thor during civil war

I like it, I love it, I want some more of it. So why does this short bit with zero special effects work so well?

Let’s take it apart.

Comedy is incredibly hard. Even the pro’s at Saturday Night Live fail more often than succeed. The tough part of a short skit like this is variety.

Saturday Night Live and other skit shows tend to find one joke that does work, then beat it to death, making a five-minute skit feel like five hours.

The other path–multiple jokes that may or may not work–is much harder to pull off.

You won’t know if it works while writing or rehearsing it, and unless you film in front of a live audience, you won’t get feedback until you put that short film out there for the world to embrace or trash.

This bit about Thor works because they don’t rely on a single, repetitive joke. They had the guts to try a ton of different jokes, big or small, and to include little details that reward multiple viewings. Continue reading “What Thor was doing during CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”

8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week

Name something popular, anything at all, and chances are it’s a series instead of a One Hit Wonder.

This is about why that is, despite a serious quality handicap, and how your favorite series either does it wrong, does it halfway or flat-out nails it.

There are two basic types of series: evergreen and meta-stories.

Evergreen

This includes sitcoms, mysteries, and other shows where things don’t really change … except for the villain or problem, which constantly changes, until the movie series runs out of steam, the novelist gets sick of it or studio execs at NBC look at the dying ratings and pull the plug.

The advantage of an evergreen story is the audience can fire up Netflix and watch any random episode without being lost. You can , buy any of Lee Child’s series at Barnes & Noble and enjoy Reacher beating people up for 325 pages without needing to know anything about the other books.

Star Trek, in all its forms (original, TNG, Voyager) was an evergreen series.

HOWEVER: the best string of movies was a meta-story about Spock, with Spock sacrificing his life to save the Enterprise and crew (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Corinthian Leather), then Kirk and crew sacrificing to bring Spock’s newborn body back from Planet Crazytown (Star Trek 3: We Stole This Sweet Klingon Warbird) and finally Spock is back with us and directing the movie, which was smart {Star Trek 4: Save the Whales), except it lead to a future movie where Shatner directed, which turned out to be an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey.

 

The disadvantage of an evergreen series is huge: it inevitably grows stale. Also, the lead actor will always be tempted to cash out and bail for the movies. And often, the ratings or sales simply tank, making studio exec or publishers pull the plug, ending the series with a whimper. Continue reading “8 reasons why blockbusters are meta-stories instead of Villain of the Week”

Top 6 reasons why MAD MAX crushes AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

Now, I enjoyed AVENGERS 2: GIVE DISNEY ANOTHER BILLION DOLLARS and it’s perfectly fine as another piece of the Marvel movie assault on the galaxy.

It’s just that I wouldn’t happily head to the theater tonight to watch it again, while I will go back to see MAD MAX: FURY ROAD with friends who’ve yet to see it.

And I’m not alone: critics are going nuts for MAD MAX, with 98 percent of them loving it on Rotten Tomatoes vs. 74 percent giving the thumbs up for AVENGERS 2.

The New York Flipping Times wrote a glowing review of MAD MAX. That’s nuts.

Why is the Australian underdog kicking the pants off the greatest collection of box-office superheroes ever assembled? Continue reading “Top 6 reasons why MAD MAX crushes AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON”

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What you need to know before seeing AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

Unless you live in an ice cave, you know that AVENGERS 2 opens on May 1.

When it does open, all your friends will go see it, then ask what you thought about it, and What This Movie Means for the next 10 Marvel movies. Those films will feature Thor, Iron Man, Loki, and 16 other characters, and they will make $18 billion dollars.

Let’s get you educated on the whole Marvel shebang, then talk about why Marvel, against all odds, has taken over movie theaters for the next century.

Before you spend $42 on Imax tickets, 5800 calories worth of popcorn with fake butter drizzled on it and 72 ounces of Diet Coke, watch this video to refresh your knowledge of all things Marvel:

And now I’ll get serious for a moment.

Why have the Marvel movies rocked the box office so hard? Continue reading

Super-powered mutant Avenger of the ocean: The Mighty Cuttlefish

random thursday crazy kittteh meme

I understand an octopus, a squid and a clam. Clams have shells. Squids and octopuses (octopi?) have tentacles and such.

But this alien beast has a shell — inside its body.

The cuttlefish’s bone is made of aragonite, the same special metal used to graft Wolverine’s claws and skeleton* and Captain America’s shield** — but not Thor’s hammer, which came from the heart of a dead star.***

Plus it’s got all kinds of other mutant super powers, like a poisoned beak, tentacles, a giant brain, secret alien-like jaws that sneak out of nowhere to eat fish — and color changing powers that make it practically invisible.

Think you’re iPhone’s fancy Retina screen is amazing? The cuttlefish has 200 iridophores and eucophores per square millimeter, which equals out to 359 dots per inch. Want one of those 4k screens but don’t have $10,000 to buy one? Make friends with a herd of cuttlefish and get them to spread out on your living room wall, then fire up THE MATRIX, but not the two sequels, which were a waste of Keanu Reeve’s precious time and $279 million in CGI effects.

Here’s a good look at the cuttlefish from my favorite animal documentary series on the planet, True Facts:

 

*Note to comic book gurus: Yes, I’m kidding. Wolverine’s claws and such are made of adamantium, which is created when titanium dioxide reaches the earth’s mantle and is compressed by millions of pounds per square inch at 4,500 degrees Celsius, then remerges to the surface through millions of years of plate tectonics along with the help of all kinds of Red Bulls and shots of bourbon while the comic book writers at Marvel try to make it all sound two-thirds scientific, one-third magical and 143 percent awesome.

**Also, the famous shield of Captain America is actually made of vibranium, a real metal alloy that’s also used in the manufacture of the B-2 stealth bomber because of its unique radar-absorbing properties. Vibranium is only found in one place: the southern pole of Mars, meaning all traces of it on earth came from a massive asteroid striking the pole and sending debris raining down upon Africa, the only continent where vibranium can now be mined. Buying this so far? Okay. There are these penny stocks, and if you know which ones to buy, you can turn ten cents into a dollar, $1 into $100 — and $100 into $100,000. All you have to is subscribe to my financial newsletter to learn the secrets of true wealth that Wall Street doesn’t want you to know.

***Actually, that part is true. Dead star, all the way. Not making it up.

A montage set to music: The best movies of 2013

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

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

tinseltown tuesday meme morpheous

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.

Honest trailer: THE AVENGERS

Oh, this is well-done.

I liked THE AVENGERS and THOR, along with CAPTAIN AMERICA and IRON MAN, though I do agree that IRON MAN 2 was smothered in useless sidekick nonsense.

Favorite line: “Witness the excitement … of Iron Man fixing a spaceship for 20 minutes.”

Hollywood: Sidekicks do NOT need their own stupid sidekicks

THE EXPENDABLES 2 movie poster.

Ever look at an overstuffed movie poster and wonder, “Is that tiny figure over on the left a man, a woman or a smudge that didn’t get properly PhotoShopped out of existence?”

THE EXPENDABLES 2 is the latest movie to stuff 40 pounds of characters into a 5-pound bag.

Here’s the movie poster.

THE EXPENDABLES 2 movie poster.
Who’s that one guy way in the back, wearing a hat? NOBODY KNOWS, but he made $15.3 million for this movie. Remember that tomorrow at work.

I counted 11 action heroes on that poster, which is 10 more action heroes than you typically need for an action film, even if eight of these guys just got broken out of the Beverly Hills Nursing Home.

Bet you anything the team of screenwriters — if I put a 9 mm to their head and started counting down — couldn’t tell you all 11 character names, and the average movie-goer wouldn’t notice if you chopped five of them from the film entirely.

This is a common problem, not just for Hollywood but for novels, especially anything involving fantasy and sci-fi, because no self-respecting Jedi or Hobbit goes off on an adventure without at least 23 other people tromping around with them, squabbling with each other when they’re not getting captured by Darth Vader and such.

IT IS A MESS.

Now, this problem also happens in comic book movies, partly because of the Comic Book Movie Laws.

Movie No. 1: The origin story of the hero along with the hero’s nemesis, the best villain. So: one hero, one villain.

Movie No. 2: The hero gets two sidekicks as he battles TWO villains.

Movie No. 3: The hero juggles an entourage that won’t fit in a Greyhound bus while he battles THREE villains.

Movie No. 4: Doesn’t happen, unless your name is Joel Schumacher and you’re making the mistake known as BATMAN FOREVER. Otherwise, the series dies and reboots.

I just watched THOR again, using the powers of Netflix over the Series of Tubes and such, and it is a fun little popcorn movie.

However, the cast of characters will make your head hurt: Thor, Hannibal Lecter, Loki, Princess Leia‘s mom, the Guardian, the Frost Giants, that arrow-shooting guy from THE AVENGERS and BOURNE LEGACY, Agent Coulson, the Frost Giant King, Yoda, the shark from JAWS and other people I’m probably forgetting.

In all seriousness: There’s a scene where Thor’s buddies are walking down the street and one of the SHIELD agents calls it in, saying he just spotted Xena, Robin Hood and Jackie Chan.

This agent is not only sarcastic, but wrong, because he’s completely forgetting Thor’s fourth sidekick, the fat bearded guy who — and this is shocking — likes to eat a lot.

In this movie, Princess Leia’s mom is Thor’s love interest, which is like a sidekick, but different, in that Thor makes goo-goo eyes at her. With his other sidekicks, he simply claps them on the shoulder in a manly way, or maybe hugs them — though he hugs her, too. IT IS CONFUSING.

Anyway, the point is, she has two of her own sidekicks: an old Norwegian scientist guy or whatever and some kind of sarcastic girl scientist who is apparently there for contrast, to make Princess Leia’s mom look even more smart and beautiful.

You heard me right: The sidekick has sidekicks of her own.

This is all too common and all too wrong.

Every movie and book could be improved by killing off every possible character.

In fact, thinking of “Who could we erase from the page?” is the wrong question. Start by saying, “Who is the ONE essential character?” and work up to the number two, the number three, pi (3.14-whatever) and some imaginary numbers.

Then break the Four Barrier and stop to reflect upon WHAT YOU HAVE WROUGHT, which is a far, far better story than what you started with.

THOR can’t exist without Thor (1) and if we need a second character, it’s obviously Loki (2). Odin (3) and the Frost King (4) would round out a top four. That story could work. Everybody else could go take a nice long vacation on a desert planet with two suns.

Going the other direction, just for fun: Say goodbye, Xena / Robin Hood / Jackie Chan / Fat Guy sidekicks (minus 4). Not essential to the story at all. See ya to Princess Leia’s mom and her two sidekicks (minus 3). Goodbye to Agent Coulson and the arrow man (minus 2). No more Guardian and Odin’s wife (minus 2). That’s 11 characters out the door, and those actors need not be unemployed: we will send them to star in THE EXPENDABLES 3: STALLONE NEEDS ANOTHER FACELIFT.

IRON MAN 2 had it much worse than THOR, with the villain played by Mickey Rourke getting buried by layers upon layers of sidekicks. I mean, look at this movie poster. All sidekicks, all the time. Villains are so boooring.

Peoples of Hollywood and writers of books, please kill off sidekicks.

Do it with a sharp pen, a 12-gauge shotgun or a red lightsaber — I don’t care.

Just do it before they make IRON MAN 3.