Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

At one point during The Avengers, I suddenly realize that here I am, in a big screen theater, full of people, watching a live action Thor and Iron Man fight. And it’s good.

Decades of comic book movies have brought us to this point: Where we can have high budget movies with A-list actors and directors bring our comics to the screen for the mass audience.

Sure, there have been some bumps along this road. But Marvel’s The Avengers paved over a lot of them.

Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts had more charisma in five minutes of screen time than in the previous two movies put together. (But why was she dressed like that?)

Chris Evans stopped being a boy in man’s clothes who didn’t emote (like how he was throughout the whole Captain America movie) and started being the take-charge man of principle that we all know he is.

The Hulk looked less like a cartoon, and more like a big, green Mark Ruffalo (This is a good thing). Ruffalo did a good job playing the conflicted Bruce Banner, and you could see in every scene that he’s trying to hold it together. I think Edward Norton could have done it well, too, but these things happen.

Black Widow was given something to do. Instead of just slinking around and kicking people, she was the brains of the operation in a way that Stark and Banner couldn’t be.

I should add here that I liked all of the previous movies, but The Avengers became the rug that really tied the room together.

Joss Whedon’s fingerprints were all over this thing. The bickering. The long stretches of dialogue. The humor.

There were times when a few characters are talking, then it switches to another scene where a few characters are talking, and then another. Compare that to the X-Men movies, where there’s a few minutes of dialogue and then someone is attacked. It was a welcome change, with all the testosterone flowing around, for people to have intelligent, character-revealing dialogue.

I’m very happy for Whedon. He helmed a very large, very expensive, and very high profile project and he did it well. However, I do NOT want him to direct any sequels. Whedon has a tendency to get too familiar with his characters, rendering villains harmless and heroes little more than people who just hang out together.

The plot was paper-thin, when compared to what Loki attempted in the Thor movie. But, this movie was all about bringing the heroes together, and there might not have been room for an overly elaborate villain plot. That’s debatable. The heroes spent almost as much time fighting each other. That may have been the plot, actually.

Loki was a bit too brutish with some of his combat. I don’t see him as the type to bring down helicopters with an energy weapon while riding on the back of a truck. He is the master of illusion. However, maybe his fight was just a ruse. As you see later, when he gets caught.

There was a hint of romantic subplot that may happen at some point, but there was no burden of forced romance when there are a bunch of big storylines running around.

Image

So, I’m very psyched for a sequel, although I have no idea how they’re going to top the villain they introduced (I saw it coming, for the record!) for the eventual part 3.

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I was trying to read while my wife watched the 2010 version of “Alice in Wonderland.” I kept getting distracted away from the page by the amazing visuals. Then, I’d hear a sentence of dialog and think “God, this is stupid,” and go back to my book.

The visual effects were stunning, and I found myself checking every nook and cranny on the screen to find little details. It’s a shame the same amount of care wasn’t given to the script. A-list actors, top notch computer animators, and a legendary story and this is the end product?

What a waste of talent.

 

This is definitely one of those cases where I had already heard of the story, and that ruins the surprise. But I probably wouldn’t have been so eager to read it had I not known what the story was.

 

For spoilers sake, I’ll leave out as much as I can.

 

The book contains stories about all the different Scourges. If you’re like me, you thought there was just one. Honestly, they should have stopped at one.

 

The original Scourge was a vigilante who gunned down costumed villains. He didn’t just go after B- and C-listers. He actually went for Kraven and Hobgoblin, but they got away. The B- and C-listers like Miracle Man weren’t so lucky, probably because the writers saw less potential in them for future stories.

 

My biggest surprise was that the storyline crossed over into so many books. Often it was just one page. Villain shows up. Bang. Justice is served. The worst issue in the series was in The Thing, where Ben Grimm, Miracle Man and Scourge are all on the same bus.

 

The best issue in the series has him going after Hobgoblin in Spider-Man’s book. Flash Thompson was just unmasked as the Hobgoblin, even though it turns out to be a trick, so Spidey’s got to protect him from Scourge. These big crossovers tend to be awkward when they sprawl into other books, but this was a real strong way to tie in to the current Spider-Man story seamlessly.

 

Usually, when you read an older book, it’s a bit dated. Here, not too much felt old, surprisingly. I think the only thing that was glaring was that during this era Steve Rogers made his living as an artist drawing the Captain America comic book. Seriously. I don’t think this would have flown these days. Not with a character like Cap. If Peter Parker was an artist and not a photographer, then I definitely could see Marvel hiring him to draw Spider-Man. Then he’d have to draw Spidey being a bumbling fool or be told by his editor “You’re drawing him too muscular! Everyone knows Spider-man is a weakling!”

 

The entire storyline was very well done, and could have created a villain with a great future. But, the ending was perfect.

 

The later Scourge stories were less exciting. Once writer Mark Gruenwald said that there was a Scourge program, and that once one was defeated, another took his place, it started to get old. An organization like this is interesting. But I think an individual acting alone is much more interesting. The later stories tended to be retreads of the old story. I guess that’s the way it is with comics. If you like it once, they’ll try it again over and over until you don’t like it anymore. They played with the toy until it broke.

 

Several people took on the identity of Scourge over the years, mostly with the same motive. One notable stand-out was that Red Skull had hired someone to be a Scourge to take out his competition. Unfortunately, we don’t see much of this Scourge’s exploits in this book.

 

Also unfortunately, in the copy I read, the title on the cover and spine of the graphic novel read “SCOURGE of the underwolrd.” Nice job, Marvel editors. Still, it wasn’t as bad as an X-Men collection I read. There were character bios in the back, and they were completely unedited. There was actually a note from the editor to the writer (Write about this for 3 or 4 lines…) that went to print.

WHAT I LEARNED: If you’ve got a good story, know when to end it. I often retread the same thing over and over again. If it can be done once, why not again? Because it’s boring. That’s why not.

 

Abduction = Bourne Identity + The Face On The Milk Carton

Before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, there was a trailer for this movie called “Abduction.”

First of all, the minute I see Taylor Lautner, a) I already sign off on not seeing the movie and b) flagellate myself for knowing his name. (Maybe I’m being mean. I’m sure he’s a swell guy.)

As the trailer hints at the plot, and the girl shows him the age-progression photo, I think that’s not a bad little scene. Then I remember “The Face On The Milk Carton,” a story by Caroline B. Cooney about a kid who learns he’s been abducted.

But then, VIOLENCE!

Suddenly there’s shooting, and who do you trust? And he’s jumping around like he’s got spider-powers. And seriously, can we just get back to “I Know My Name Is Steven?”

Because what this looks like to me is that he’s been involved in some kind of super soldier program, genetically bred to be better than the rest of us, and kidnapped to be programmed, but maybe programmed for good rather than evil and instead of having any real emotional story it just descends into bullets and screaming and trailer scenes.

 

For my (sometimes offensive) humor videos, visit:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge?feature=mhee


About 30 minutes into this movie, I thought, “Geez, this is going by awfully quickly.” I had completely forgotten that all the build-up was in the last movie. If I could watch more than one movie in a sitting, it might be that they form a more natural build to a plateau of action.

That said, the director David Yates understood timing. There were many shots that were long enough to take in the scenery and the emotion. They were even a welcome break from the scattershot action movie trailers that came before.

But the speed necessitated that things had to be cut. We never saw the Fred Weasley death scene, unless you sort-of saw it when Voldemort called off the Death Eaters. We also got gipped on Lupin and Tonks. Occasionally, the movies will show something the books didn’t, and this is one thing my wife and I both wanted the movies to fill in. We saw them reach for each other, so I guess that was more than the book gave us. I was hoping for a little more from the Molly Weasley/Bellatrix Lestrange fight, but it got the job done. We’d never seen Molly duel, and it would be cool to see her let loose like McGonagall, who kicked ass!

I wonder how much Emma Thompson got paid for her 3 seconds as Sybil Trelawney? Certainly, I’m glad she wasn’t dropping crystal balls on Fenrir, who also showed up for 3 seconds. But, that’s the nature of movies, they excise or marginalize lesser characters and parts. Hagrid was a huge casualty. Did we really need to see the Carrows?

The one scene from the book that was missing – the only one that really sticks out – was Harry’s declaration in front of everybody that Snape was a hero. This could have happened when they were done apparating. The apparation fight was a nice touch, and as they are flying wild, they could have landed right in the middle of everyone.

I’m glad they only hinted at Dumbledore’s past. My main criticism of the books has been that more than half of the action happens more than a decade ago. Everything that’s happening now got it’s start at various times: When Dumbledore was gathering power; when Tom Riddle and Hagrid attended Hogwarts; when James, Lily, Remus, Sirius and Severus attended Hogwarts; and when James and Lily were killed.

I was happy with Neville Longbottom, who has always been my favorite. I root for the underdog, and I feel that if I was in that world, I would be the bumbler who always felt like a second-string extra.

I found that I had to try to cry quietly because I didn’t want to miss any of the dialogue. The biggest tearjerker was Snape’s pensieve scenes.

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/deathly-hollows-2-everyone-will-cry/

 

My wife started crying in the opening scenes, with Snape looking out over Hogwarts. No one knows why.

Now, it will continue in Pottermore, which is just as well, but it’s hard to deny that there was an ending here. And it was a satisfying ending.

 

I had written a review of Part One here:

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/review-deathly-hallows-part-one/

I’d like to coin a new phrase: Michael Baywatch: When beautiful people run through explosions in slow motion.

 

The Bad:

 

I watched Transformers: ROTF because I felt obligated. The G1 series informed so much of my childhood, I had to go. Granted, the 1980s cartoon movie, if watched at a distance, is pretty cheesy. My emotional connection to my childhood is what makes it my favorite movie.

The high point of the movie for me was the trailer for Harry Potter.

 

Just like the first one, the changes in Transformers are not what bothered me. At first, I was upset that they actually made Bumblebee cooler by turning him into a Camaro. But now, I’ve come to expect some changes.

What bothered me was poor scriptwriting, sloppy scifi, continuity problems, lack of plot, lack of character…

Basically, if it wasn’t a Transformers movie, I wouldn’t have watched it. Or cared enough to post about it.

 

A lot of people are saying to ignore the plot holes and just enjoy the fun ride. But Iron Man and Dark Knight showed us that you can have both: A whirlwind action-adventure thrill ride that has great characters and story.

Saying that “It’s just giant robots fighting, don’t expect much” insults Transformers.

Again, the cartoons I grew up with weren’t Shakespeare. But they had characters and stories.

I still think this movie, and the last one, are monster movies. Giant aliens with no discernible personality are trying to destroy the world. It ignores the fact that the best thing about the toys when I was a kid was that there were personalities. Example: G1 Swindle. Toy was decent but it was the personality that was great. Mirage. Wheeljack. I could go on and on.

In monster movies, a person gets about 3 lines of dialogue and is killed. They don’t have a character, they have one character trait. Sound like ROTF?

 

Roger Ebert’s review is very poignant. It’s where I grabbed the Iron Man and Dark Knight thing from. He also said how a child can hold a Transformer toy and use his imagination to craft wonderful stories. And that ROTF was certainly not the work of a vivid imagination.

 

Some questions:

-If the Allspark created all Transformer life, why does it only make evil robots?

-Why does it take a Matrix of Leadership to bring Prime back to life, but Megatron can just be rebuilt on the ocean floor?

-Why is Megatron such a putz? He shows up on Earth, gets frozen. Gets thawed out, killed by a fleshling. Wakes up again only to kowtow to some ancient Cybertronian. I want my villains better than this.

-During the first fight, a human died. They showed his coffin. Was he in the first movie? Was he supposed to be important?

-How is Optimus a descendant of the primes? Do they have babies?

-Was Ironhide British in the first one?

-How did the government scramble a huge attack force to come in what seemed like seconds?

 

When Megatron called to Starscream for help at the end of the movie, Starscream should have looked around to make sure no other Decepticons were looking, then said “I’ll tell the others you fought bravely.” Then killed Megatron. That one simple action would have changed a lot of my opinion about the movie.

 

This should have been a kids’ movie.

A Bot firing a crotch-mounted cannon; constant testicle jokes; dogs humping; a bunch of cursing; an impossible to ignore drug scene; John Turturro’s thong (OK, that part was kind of funny, but still). The ratings board must have been out for popcorn during some of this.

I would be mortified to have my nephews here. My daughter is 2 and loves Optimus Prime. (She calls him Op-pa!) I think, when she’s older, I’ll have her watch G1 but not the new movies. Kind of like how I’ll have her watch Star Wars Eps 4-6, not Eps 1-3.

 

It’s kind of bad when Turturro had to actually ask Jetfire what the plot is.

Plot derives conflict: Character A wants to do something, but Character B wants to stop that. To a degree, there was some of that. But what we got was “There’s some big thing we have to destroy before it blows up the sun.” When Hitchcock was asked to define a MacGuffin, he said the audience doesn’t care what it is, as long as it drives the story.

Iron Man had a MacGuffin in it, too, the rings that created his power-core-heart-thingy. And the first Batman had the microwave emitter. Dark Knight didn’t have a MacGuffin, and that’s why it was brilliant.

There was comic relief, but no comedy.

The difference is that comedy flows naturally out of the story or characters. Comic relief is injected, forced into a movie. A robot calling a human a “pussy,” for instance. Jetfire’s routine “My father was a wheel….” was hilarious. But it shouldn’t have been in the movie. A lot of the gags, like a robot humping a girl’s leg, should have been in the Scary Movie franchise instead.

 

About the Jar Jar Bots. Much has been made to say they were racist black stereotypes. I didn’t get that. I hated them, yes. But I thought they were rednecks. I didn’t see the correlation.

 

The Good:

I think I’m being overly critical, so I’ll talk about what I liked.

I think Sam and Mikaela are very charismatic. They’re not necessary to the movie. But they’re likable.

I enjoyed Sam’s parents (minus the drug scene.) I liked them in the first one, too.

 

Any fight scene with Prime was amazing. If he wasn’t there, it was kind of blah. But whether it was slo-mo or what, you could really see what the characters were doing. It was a lot of fun to watch those fights. The 3-on-1 where Prime died; his return to take on Megatron and the Fallen; even Jetfire vs. Scorponok; Bumblebee vs. Rampage and Ravage.

And Bumblebee is making up for lost time. He stopped getting his butt kicked and started kicking butt.

There was one point where Ironhide was hurting pretty badly. No incarnation of Ironhide has ever been my favorite, but I was actually sitting there hoping he wouldn’t die.

Megatron and Starscream playing the roles that we’re used to seeing.

Soundwave and Frank Welker’s voice. Soundwave was always one of my favorites. I was curious to see how they were going to use him. The satellite was an interesting idea.

Ravage. Another one of my favorites. Done very well, I think.

 

This is a version of Transformers 3 I made myself based on what I think the script should be:

 

 

Even if you don’t like Thor, you will go see it because you want to know what’s happening in the Avengers movie.

This is a trick comic companies have been doing for years: You only buy Uncanny X-Men, but they want you to also buy X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, Generation X, Astonishing X-Men, Wolverine and Dazzler. So, they parse the story up and put a page or two into every title, forcing you to buy it.

Now, just think of it as a multi-million dollar film deal. They want you to watch each one, so they put Samuel L. Jackson into all of them, and spread the storyline around a bit, and then you’re hooked.

That said, it was a good movie.

Acting was solid. Costumes. Sets (except the New Mexico town seemed like it was built in the literal middle of nowhere).

Loki’s plot was good. He had me guessing. And he was a well-rounded character, not what I’d expect. Also, I appreciate that his plot wasn’t a MacGuffin. He had a real motivation, and it was layered.

The only issue was there was a bit of a reality problem. Like I said in:

https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2010/08/25/super-hot-super-genius/

I just don’t buy the idea of a beautiful young single scientist who just so happens to be in the right place at the right time. Maybe there are hundreds of young, gorgeous scientists who are busy chasing storms, spelunking volcanoes and exploring ancient ruins. Anyway, half of the movie is in Asgard, which has a lot of digital animation. And the other half is on Earth, with this relationship that’s blossoming between a scary stranger and a brilliant scientist who turns into a 13-year-old schoolgirl every time the Thunder God smiles in her direction.

I asked my friend Michelle, one of the people I saw it with, if she thought it was too weird. She didn’t think so. My reason for asking is that most super hero movies to date have been pretty grounded. Ideas like mutants and radioactive spider powers introduced slowly and carefully. Then, we have the 9 realms, Asgardians, Destroyer, the Warriors Three, Heimdall (who kicked ass) and the Rainbow Bridge. And…wow…is this too much for people to swallow?

Granted, maybe this movie isn’t for grandma and grandpa. Unless your grandpa is Stan Lee.

It helped that Sif and the others were pretty one-dimensional to begin with. You’re not really going to get into the mind of Fandral or Volstagg. That’s OK. You got enough of them to know their motivations, and not to get them confused with other characters in armor.

It’s worth seeing, if you can suspend disbelief about gods and about awkward romance blooming. Especially if you want to see Avengers.

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

Hangover 2 trailer review

The Wolfpack is indeed back.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYL_T7f59o8

It’s strange that I’m excited about Hangover 2. It’s not my usual kind of movie. I’m a little late to the party. I only saw the first movie in April. So I already knew about Mike Tyson and some of the other gags. The first one had a great premise, and – as opposed to lots of movies – the payoff was just as good. The acting was pretty good, and I’m beginning to like Zach Galifianakis more each day. One day, I might just let him out of my basement.

I saw the trailer of Hangover 2 in front of Scream 4 (which I reviewed here: https://whatilearnedbywriting.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/scream-4-a-spoiler-free-writers-review/)

First off, I knew they were going to shoehorn in Mr. Chow, that annoying Asian gangster from the first one (Ken Jeong). This time, Stu’s getting married. Which means in part 3, it will have to be Galifianakis.

The trailer was strong in that it didn’t give anything away. Just little snippets and hints. Like the first scene after they wake up. Pieces of the puzzle.

The difficulty in making this movie is that it had to be bigger and crazier than the last, which is quite a feat.

So how does a writer make something that’s bigger and crazier? Some people have complained already that this movie has the same plot. Others have said “Who cares? It worked the first time.”

Really, this is not the type of movie that needs to reinvent itself. Maybe the key is to know your audience, and what their expectations are. And play with those expectations.

One criticism, and it’s a very minor one, is that I fear that too many of their issues might stem from some crazy sex or drug thing. A little too cliche. I’d like to see instead a bevy of strange things that happened the night before, but they should be strange without being just about sex and drugs.

Here’s the following things I want to see them wake up to in their hotel room:

$2,000 worth of Girl Scout Cookies.

A chocolate fountain, but it’s not filled with chocolate.

An alarm, slowly ticking down to something, but they haven’t figured out what yet.

A signature by a celebrity, and they’re trying to make it out. Maybe Ringo Starr signed Zach Galifianakis’ breast.

An empty gun.

One end of a 200-foot rope leading to….?

I actually don’t remember too much about the trailer. Fitting, I know. Perhaps they were trying to make you feel the anesthetic haze. Parts of it are blending with the trailer for the next installment of the Fast and the Furious. By the way, it shouldn’t have been called Flash Five. It should have been called Furious Five, and that way it could have starred Grandmaster Flash.

Disclaimer/background: I’m a traditionalist. I don’t think people should break rules of storytelling unless there’s a good reason. I write comic books, short fiction and children’s books. Just to put my comments in perspective, these are my interests and favorites: My favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and I also like Justice League and Batman. My favorite comic writers lately have been Kurt Busiek, Peter David, and Geoff Johns. I am a huge Transformers fan. In children’s books, I go either simple or meta: either really simple stories or books about stories. In movies and books, I am more impressed with something small that makes me feel something rather than something I’m told is a “must-read” or a must-see.”

I make silly videos and post them here:

http://www.youtube.com/user/verylittleknowledge

The Voice is “What I really want to do is direct” for musicians.

A bunch of famous singers take the producer role and make something out of nothing.

There’s an entertainment value to watching great singers perform. And there’s a thrill when each celebrity turns to check them out. And great sideways camera angles that get more than one celeb down the line.

What there needs to be is a competition for writers. Hundreds of quiet, socially awkward bibliophiles try uncomfortably to pitch books to publishers.

Randy did it.

That’s what I thought about Scream 3. Randy had somehow faked his death in Scream 2, and he was the killer in 3.

The characters in 3 found a video made of him, so he still appeared in that movie, but he was long gone.

But I was still holding out hope for him to appear again in 4. Maybe he was severely scarred, and wheelchair bound, and ordering Ghostface around remotely.

Then Neve Campbell’s Sidney would round a corner in a creepy old house and find him during the parlor scene.

I had it all in my head.

And that’s what made the movies successful. Any one of the red herrings could be a decent movie. The fact that you’ll never really guess the killer is inconsequential. You’re building a movie in your head.

Part 4 made me feel the same way part 1 did: Not fear, but that sustained tension for 90 minutes because you don’t know what is going to happen.

It also threw more red herrings at you than Lew Zealand.

Movie makers want to crank out sequels as quickly as possible, but Scream 4 benefited from the distance of 11 years.

It made use of technology that has made it that much easier to reach out and touch someone. Everyone has cell phones. An App that makes your voice sound like Ghostface. A GPS in a phone.

It’s a much better movie than if they had just made another one a year after part 3.

My only complaint – the only whole in the plot – was that after all that’s happened to Sidney Prescott, why isn’t she carrying a gun?

The first time she sees a killing, she charges into the house to save the person or catch the killer. Imagine if she’s got a gun at the time. She fires into Ghostface’s chest.

“Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight!”

It doesn’t matter if Ghostface disappears. Maybe he was wearing a bulletproof vest. Maybe the bullet just grazed him. The point is, she does the smart thing and shoots him.

Even better, what if she kills him. The mask comes off, and it’s some teenager no one knows. Then, a few minutes later, the killings continue. It would have been a total switch.

As a writer, I wondered what they could have done to make it bigger and better than all the previous efforts.

What I learned was that you shouldn’t rely on one thing. If it had been a huge change, you could have lost some viewers. There’s a contract with your audience that they expect certain things. You can’t change them. You’re trapped in that aspect.

Instead, they changed many little things. The killer using a webcam, for instance. Not the first time a killer’s done this in a movie, but it was an evolution that made sense. There are other little changes, but I don’t want to do spoilers.

So, if you’re lucky enough to be writing a sequel to something, control yourself. Don’t make it too big of a jump for viewers, or they might fall.

Did anyone think that Emma Roberts was filmed in soft focus all the time? Or maybe she just exists in soft focus.