Double Feature

Let me tell you a story.  A story of stories and how they make me feel, because that is what stories are meant to do.

They are meant to hammer at you until your cold, jaded, forgotten heart lurches in your chest. Until the pit of your stomach falls away like the temple floor beneath Indy’s feet. Until you feel drained of pent up emotion – angst, anguish, laughter, joy, fear, dread, doubt, wonder, thrill, anger, rage – we’re not allowed by society and cultural norms to express. Until we are cleansed of these things in the sacred cathartic act of empathy.

One day back in the fall, I went to the movies. I hadn’t seen anything in a while, and there were several seemingly good options out there, so I decided to make it an entire evening – taking advantage of $2 popcorn Tuesday at Regal – at the theater and ended up watching Gone Girl and John Wick back to back.

This was an excellent decision. Here’s why.

Gone Girl is fraught with tension and suspense.  I truly believe it to be an admirable successor to Hitchcock and would call it a modern Psycho. Yes, I think that highly of it.

I’ve quipped many times that Gone Girl is a film that justifies my decision to NEVER EVER GET MARRIED.

The film does an excellent job of storytelling. It is gripping and draws the viewer in. Even when you know what happens, you’re fully convinced Nick is a wife-killing d-bag. Then it smacks you half way through with what’s really going on in a “That Bitch” moment. And it really never lets you go…leading you around by the nose.GoneGirl

It jangles the nerves and gets the viewer all worked up until the very last frame and doesn’t let them go even as the credits roll.

Never.

Trapped, like Nick.

Well. Gone Girl did it’s job. I felt something. Boy did I feel something.

I left the theater twitching mentally, completely creeped out, and walking a knife edge between tension and being drained.

Another popcorn. Refill the drink. Bring on John Wick.

I’m just going to go ahead and get this out of the way and say John Wick has become probably my favorite Keanu Reeves flick.

It’s a guilty pleasure action flick that has a beautifully symmetrical, surprisingly meaningful story to hang the violent body count on.

It begins with a dark and gritty hook. Well considered and laid out. Rather calm and deliberate. Cut to black and alarm clock announces the day of his wife’s funeral. Cut back to the illness and the joys found and lost. Progress forward again to the aftermath of her death, leaving John one last gift. A dog to love, to love him, and to give him purpose so he can begin healing.JohnWick_Daisy

Enter Scum-Bag Russian Mobster Theon Greyjoy. We already know it’s not going to end well for him. It never ends well for Theon.

He steals John Wick’s car. Kills John Wick’s dog.

There are two hard and fast rules of life one should not ignore if one values their life.

You don’t mess with a man’s car, and you certainly do not kill a man’s dog.

And John Wick is not just any man.

John Wick is the Boogeyman, rather, he’s the bastard you send to Kill the Boogeyman. The mere mention of his name turns bowels watery.

Anyone think he’s just going to let this go?

Didn’t think so.

Yes, it becomes a gleeful revenge tale told in a rather classy, gentlemanly manner. The film elegantly creates this cultured underworld that operates by its own rules and codes of conduct. Of hitmen – and women – and hotels and clubs and operators and organizations that work to maintain a certain balance and decorum amongst the seedy underbelly of the city.

A civilized world in which the name John Wick carries utmost respect. Damn uncultured kids not showing proper respect. Had Theon just acted with this same code of civility instead of the pompous arrogance common among  entitled brats…but I digress.

JohnWick_ManTears

Mandatory fight in the rain. Because men don’t cry.

The film establishes “the way it is, and must be” and follows it step by step until the inevitable conclusion of this gentlemanly shoot ‘em up, culminating in the classic show down in the rain.

It follows the rules and gives the audience the catharsis it desires. It relies upon understood touchstones of storytelling and uses them to great effect. I mean, if you can’t have Nazis as your villain, Russian Mobsters is a close second in my book.

JohnWick_ThatGuy

That Guy!

Plus you’ve got this guy’s mustache again. You may recognize him from The Equalizer. His name is Tait Fletcher, and he’s my new favorite “that guy!”

It’s gloriously overblown and larger than life, and that’s what makes it the perfect chaser for Gone Girl.

 

JohnWick_Hammer

Where Gone Girl is subtle and stealthily knits your nerves in a net drawn close around your heart, John Wick takes a sledgehammer to the emotional blocks, breaking desires wide open, fulfilling the wishes in the darkest corners, and washes them all away in the rain.

JohnWick_EndDogAnd with puppy kisses.

For a violent revenge flick, John Wick extols the virtues of love more than anything else. Love is what raises us up, makes us better, heals us, and bereft of it, plunges our hearts into the darkest recesses of existence.

That is what good storytelling does for you. It works you up, draws you out, and winds you down.  This combo did that for me. An excellent choice, to do this double feature at the theater.

That was then, this is now. I just finished Gone Girl and John Wick for a second time, and my feelings on the subject remain unchanged.

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner – directed by Wes Ball and starring Dylan O’Brien – is an adaptation of James Dashner’s novel of the same name.

I got a freebie offer from Redbox, so I thought I’d check this one out. It seemed to get overshadowed by some of the other young adult literature adaptations hitting the screen last year, and I didn’t hear much good or bad about it. But hey, can’t be worse than Hunger Games, right?

For what it is, it’s a decent film. It’s rather a standard survivor teen series which is far more literal than its ilk in that youngsters are actually thrown into a giant puzzle to be solved ‘for the greater good’ of humanity – no metaphor needed.

The Glade

The Glade

It’s got some good things going for it. The pacing is steady, the action and suspense are tight, and the characters are remarkably well dimensioned and developed. Though “greeny” Thomas, played by Dylan, may be the catalyst for all the changes in the film, I didn’t feel compelled by his character. Rather, I thought Chuck (Blake Cooper) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, aka Peter Pan from Once Upon a Time and Jojen Reed from Game of Thrones) stole the show with their performances.

Banishment

Banishment

It feels most strongly influenced by The Lord of the Flies and the Forest Temple from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

For some reason, boys stranded in the middle of nowhere with no society to fall back upon will always make pointy sticks and end up re-enacting The Lord of the Flies. At least that’s what the movies tell me.

That’s fairly obvious.

Boy, I could use a Hookshot.

What I like though was the incorporation of the Forest Temple.

That’s how the Maze felt to me, at least.  Like running through one of the many puzzle dungeons from Legend of Zelda. Chuck even at one point tells Thomas it’s dangerous to go in alone. No lie, the maze walls are covered in ivy and he climbs up them to escape giant Skullutlas (they call them Grievers).

Forest Temple.  With HD graphics.

KILL IT WITH FIRE!

KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!

MazeRunner_DungeonKey

Dungeon Key & Compass

After Thomas defeats the Giant Skulltula, he retrieves the dungeon key and dungeon map, which will lead them all to the boss room.

MazeRunner_MazeMap

We’ve visited all the rooms! Where’s the f-ing boss room!

Where they discover there are still more dungeons to conquer before they really get out.

 

All in all, it’s a decent movie. Could be better, but it’s not as bad as a lot of the YA Lit adaptations plaguing the silver screen these days.

This one has a good balance of mystery, heart, and adventure to it. I’d watch it again and I’d watch the sequel.

Next up, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials later this year. Fire Temple?

Okay, if the one after that is the Water Temple…might not watch it. Damn Water Temple…

Damn Water Temple

Damn Water Temple

The Equalizer

The day before New Year’s Eve, I rented two movies from Redbox. Both were movies I originally wanted to see in theaters, but hesitated because of mixed or poor reviews.

One of the two was The November Man, starring Pierce Brosnan and directed by Roger Donaldson. I wanted to like it, but did not. The story is a jumbled mess, lacking coherence and thrust, and Brosnan is left to carry the movie mostly by himself. I’ve already devoted more words than I should to the film – don’t waste your time.

The balance to this, if you will, came from The Equalizerstarring Denzel Washington and directed by Antoine Fuqua. After the first of my two rentals disappointed me, I was not very hopeful about this one. The trailers looked very good and Denzel is usually a good bet, but the only thing I heard about the film was that it was boring and it made very few waves upon its release.

I can see why it was received this way, and while I am glad I did not see The Equalizer in theaters, I unreservedly recommend watching this film.

Reality.

Reality. Ritualistic tea time.

Yes, it is beautifully shot and there is much for the eye to feast upon, but it is a film that necessitates pause.  It is a film that invites contemplation.  It is a film which tells you to be mindful within the first five minutes through the illustration of a thoughtful life that is Robert McCall. He seeks peace and calm through the power of ritual.

This humble, yet exemplary man of character demonstrates greatness in small capacities that eventually build him into a mountain best summed up by this: “Progress, not perfection.” A profound and thoughtful mantra espoused by Robert. Pause for thought, not what was advertised.

Expectation. Non stop action.

Expectation. Non stop action.

The film was advertised as a straight up action flick with Denzel kicking much ass. Now, there is plenty of action, and it is epic, but The Equalizer is far from your standard action flick. Rather the action comes as an aside to Robert’s own character development. His internal struggle with his mysterious past. His desire to help those who need it.  And the friction created as he goes against a Russian fixer by the name of Teddy, played to perfection by Marton Csokas.

Every lead role needs a foil, a nemesis, and the stronger the performance of the lead, the more substantial the foil needs to be. Csokas delivers hands down. The performance is spot on and again, summed up early on with Teddy’s introduction to the local cadre of dirty cops.

"I am all that matters."

“I am all that matters.”

It is steeped in language and storytelling and character and thought, using many classic narrative structures and devices.  For example, one device used comes in the form of the three books Robert reads in the diner. We begin with the Old Man and the Sea, which he illuminates the meaning of in the narrative. Second, Don Quixote – which is never named, only alluded to when he describes it as being “about a man who wants to be a Knight in Shining Armor in a time when there are no more knights.” At the conclusion, once he has come to terms with who he is and wants to be, we see simply that he is reading Invisible Man.

Equalizer

Robert McCall is a gentle man, a humble man, and as inexorable as a force of nature. He won’t solve your problems. He helps others to help themselves. He champions the betterment of one’s self and one’s position in the world, only stepping in when the odds are unfairly stacked against those he helps. Balancing the scales.

The Equalizer.

An excellent film that espouses more than anything what character and integrity are about.

And that home improvement stores are potential death traps…

Also, this guy’s mustache makes the movie.

Equalizer_Mustache

“Da.”

So if you feel the world is against you.  Look for the gentleman with the quiet voice sitting in the corner booth reading a book.

Equalizer_Help

How To Know A Character You Love Will Die

Step 1. Let George R.R. Martin anywhere near them.

Need I elaborate?

Honorably mention goes to Joss Whedon with his signature move – “the Heartbreaker.”

 CharacterDeaths_Wash CharacterDeaths_Coulson

 Step 2. Have them point a gun at a double agent and NOT shoot them.

While you didn’t even have enough time to even warm to Agent Koenig on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., you knew he was done for the moment he pulled a gun on Ward and didn’t take that traitorous bastard out. More’s the pity

Whenever a character knows too much, stumbles upon some secret that must not be known, or has an epiphany of epic proportions… he must be silenced. Characters cannot know critical plot points only viewers are privy to. The Fourth Wall must be maintained!

Step 3. Have them reveal they know a hero’s secret identity, reconcile with that character and mend their broken relationship.

This one actually caught me by surprise. Good job Arrow. You created an incredible moment of tension, beautiful story symmetry, and sheer drama when [SPOILERS in white text] Slade killed Moira Queen. Perhaps one of the most meaningful, wrenching deaths on the small screen.

CharacterDeaths_MoiraQueen

Be wary any time things seem to be going too well for a character or two characters experience a moment of resolution. After resolution is achieved, the character is expendable. Expendable characters tend to be given new meaning, greater purpose, and less screen time. One way or another.

 

Pardon the late posting of this…was originally scheduled to go up back in May.

Reading Rainbow Hits Big

I am a child of the 80s and I grew up taking LeVar Burton’s word for it. Some of the books were terrible, some were delightful, I never saw a LOT of the books, but that’s mostly because I watched well past the age the featured books were geared for.

Doesn’t matter.

The show was great.  Beyond great.

Yes, it kindled a love of reading, but even more it kindled a thirst for knowledge.

Each program took me somewhere new, introduced new ideas, and explained a lot of things about how the world worked. And it made me want to know more. I took the knowledge garnered during the show and I looked for more to add to it, to build upon it a greater understanding of how to do things.

That’s a hard feat to accomplish. To keep a child’s attention engaged for 30 minutes, delight them, educate them, and leave them wanting more? Best showmanship ever.

And the plug was pulled in 2009.  It ran from the year I was born – 1983 – until 5 years ago. Impressive, but the format and delivery mechanisms were just too outdated.

Still, the world needs butterflies in the sky…now more than ever.

How do I know? Because the world spoke out.

LeVar Burton took Reading Rainbow to the people, creating a kickstarter asking for 1 million dollars to improve the minds of EVERY child EVERYwhere.

It was done in 11 hours. The project is fully funded, already up to 1.5 million at the time of this writing, and it still has 34 days to go.

That tells me people are desperate for quality educational entertainment options for their children.  I’ve seen some of the programming available now and shudder.

That tells me this man has not only earned my trust, but the trust of my entire generation, and in his work we find hope for the next generation. What more noble cause is there, what better use of our resources, than the betterment of our entire culture?

I’d much rather youths today take LeVar’s word for it much as I did.

Let them be inspired. Let them fly twice as high.

Take a look.

It’s in a book…or tablet…or website…

A Reading Rainbow.

Yes, Mr. Burton, with much respect, we’ll make sure there’s a next time.

Mighty Morphin Reboot

So, the Hollywood reboot machine keeps running and now it’s going to work on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. I didn’t know how to react to this news, part of me was excited, while another part was not impressed because of Lionsgate productions.  Lionsgate has made some good and fun movies, but when I look at their line-up I see a majority of movies I didn’t like or just not interested in.  Recently you would know them behind the improving “Hunger Games” films, the fun “Expendables” franchise, and the awful “Twilight” saga.  As a long time fan of Power Rangers, and cautious of Lionsgate, let’s take some time to talk about what has to be right in the movie.

The first thing the reboot must get correct is the Megazord.  Season one’s Meagzord was perfect, and many fans will tell you the original is still their favorite.  I know you have to change and update some of the design, but at its heart it has to be close.  Transformers might not be the best example to use, but look at the treatment Optimus Prime received, the voice was the same, the colors were right and they made a good effort to keep the design close.  This includes the CGI for the Megazord, if it looks as good as “Pacific Rim” it will be a hit, If it looks as bad as the Megazord from “Power Rangers: The Movie,” you might as well kill the project right now.

The second thing the reboot must get right is the Green Ranger.  Ask any old school Power Ranger fan who they liked the best and you will get one of two answers, the Green Ranger, or the White Ranger and those two are the same person. But for this article we will focus on the first version, the green ranger.

The reboot Green Ranger has to have the proper costume, and by costume I mean the shield.  The costumes for all the rangers are important, but more so for the green ranger, his is the iconic look for the first season of Power Rangers.  Just like the Megazord the new movie shouldn’t stray too far on costume design, I know you can’t just have a body suit like the show, but a more armored look similar to “Power Rangers: The Movie” would work, and still hold up for a gold-shielded Green Ranger.

Of course, this also raises the question on how to handle the green ranger as far as story goes.  Well in my opinion there are three ways you can go:

  1. Hold the Green Ranger back from the reboot, and hope you get a sequel to introduce him either as a new good guy or use the “Green With Evil” arc for the sequel.
  2. For the reboot rip the “Green With Evil” story arc straight from the show and make him one of the main villains.
  3. Change the origin story slightly and use the Green Ranger as the centerpiece.

The first idea would be the ultimate teaser and would be ripping a page out of Marvel’s playbook, drop an Easter egg or two into the movie or post credits scene to tease that he is coming.

The second idea is just as simple, establish the main bad guy, and have them use the green ranger as the villain, and then use the evil ranger’s attack as jumping off point for the formation of the Power Rangers.  This would allow one of two ending for the movie, one being him turning good and joining the team to set up the sequel, or save the turning good for a post credits scene, and work it into the plot of the sequel with him finally joining the team by the end of the sequel.

The third idea could lead to some interesting choices for casting and origin story.  For that, the green ranger is a lone wolf who was been fighting a growing evil for some time, maybe for years, until he can no longer keep up by himself leading to the forming of a full Power Rangers team.

The third idea would also allow the writers to address the elephant in the room, Jason David Frank.  He is by far the most popular ranger of them all and that story would allow him to be the pin that links this movie to the old fans.

Imagine the third story arc with Jason David Frank coming back as Tommy.  You have a familiar character carrying on his fight against evil, but being worn down, and a new group of rangers is brought in to help him.  This would allow a loose connection to the original show but allow you to create a new cast of characters, similar to how Leonard Nemoy was used in the “Star Trek” reboot. Also, think of the different stories this could lead to endings for the sequel, with Frank passing his powers on to a new Green Ranger, setting him up as a mentor character, or retiring the green ranger making way for a new white ranger.

Lionsgate, as you start writing and planning the production remember, you taking on a project with a dedicated fan base that has already had to sit through two disappointing movies.  This means every move you make will be analyzed by fans across the internet and just ask Paramount, Nickelodeon, and Michael Bay what happens when you make a fan base mad with early movie planning.

Finally, if anything sparkles, we riot.

Don’t feed the hype monster

In the spirit of May the 4th, it’s time to talk about “Star Wars,” the movie franchise that a director likes to change, and one fans want to just stay the same. Several (thousand) of these fans use the internet to share their love for the original trilogy, hate for the prequels, and beg for the director’s cut of the originals to just go away.  However, the internet and this collective gathering of fans has also become one of the franchise’s biggest problems.

Before you throw me off the internet, I’m not hating on “Star Wars” fans, but I’m coming to this discussion as a more “moderate” fan.  Yes, there are parts of the prequels that I like, and when I watch the originals I am willing to talk about their faults.  I have a collection of light sabers, but I don’t dress up as the characters and there are movies and other franchises that I put higher on my “favorites” list.  That’s why I think that hype is one of the biggest problems the Star Wars franchise has to overcome.

Hype can kill anything, because nothing ever lives up to it.  Among the many things wrong with the Star Wars prequels, hype hurt it the most. Fans were so excited for the new movies, lining up outside theaters for days to get tickets and see the first shows.  Each fan in line had their own expectations and when the films failed to meet those expectations people went home disappointed. All this happened at a time when the internet was just starting to grow up and the number of message boards and entertainment websites leaking every little detail was much smaller.

Just search the internet and it doesn’t take long to find people talking about what they want to see, coming up with fantasy cast lists, creating movie posters, and are ready to dress up and stand in line for tickets and midnight releases, even though principle photography hasn’t started.

Production companies love this hype because it sells tickets and drives up website traffic, but this much excitement and expectation only means one thing, an eventual sub-40% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Once the hype reaches certain levels, the movie is doomed to “failure” because the fan base walks away disappointed.

This is what the hype monster does, it feeds on someone’s expectations and excitement then lets you down, and no one is immune to it, eventually the monster eats everything, its caught up to dozens of movies with large fanbases, it happens to video games every year, and it rushes young adult novels into bad movie adaptations.  Nothing is immune to the monster either, not even Marvel, look at the excitement, the build up, then the reaction to “Iron Man 3.”

In fact, the monster is already eating away at this new set of Star Wars movies. The franchise has moved beyond just the movies into a number of expanded universe stories. The simple announcement that Disney was ready to make more “Star Wars” movies led fans to start talking about what E.U. stories they wanted to see on film.  Yet, the monster has already disappointed thousands when Disney said they are moving away from the E.U. and starting a new storyline and continuity for what happens to the galaxy after “Return of the Jedi.”

I know Star Wars fans want to forget the prequel movies and move on to something better and new stories, but Episode VII doesn’t have a title yet, or a release date.  This gives Bad Robot productions and Disney plenty of time to release a long string of information, youTube teasers, “script leaks,” and trailers to feed the monster. If you let yourself get carried away it will be very easy to walk away from Episode VII with the same feelings you did after “Phantom Menace.”

In the end it’s great to be a fan that loves a franchise so much you want to dress as characters, have tons of memorabilia, and learn as much as you can about upcoming projects, but you have to remember to not cross that very delicate line into over-excitement, that’s when you end up hurting the very thing you love by feeding the hype monster.

Sci-fi, YA?

Have you watched The 100? I hadn’t either. I hadn’t even heard about it until

Excerpt from @WilliamShatner twitter feed. He's a big fan.

Excerpt from @WilliamShatner twitter feed. He’s a big fan.

Captain Kirk told me of its existence via the twitters.

It’s actually not bad.  Based on the first episode, it’s a respectible sci-fi adventure.  Parts of it I do find to be really obnoxious, but I chalk that up to the fact that I’m not the target audience. It airs on the CW, so of course the target audience is about half my age, and for that, the show is fantastic.

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