Hollywood’s Hypocrisy Spoils Oscars’ Message.

Hollywood had a clear message that they wanted to express during the Oscars. They beat every viewer over the head with it for three hours.

Diversity emboldens us. Empathy and tolerance bring us together. Fear only serves to divide us. And that we must resist.

Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the rise of President Trump set the stage for tonight’s award choices.  A  concerted effort was made to nominate diverse people and films. A record-setting number of black people won an Academy Award. The winner of Best Picture was not the heavily-favored and heavily-white La La Land, but the queer and black, Moonlight.

The same message was echoed in the speeches made by the Academy Award winners.

“This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we are trying to show you, you and us, so thank you, thank you, this is for you.” said Tarell Alvin McCraney, writer of Moonlight.

The director of The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi, chose not to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban but left a statement to be read from him:

“Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.”

Strong words that no reasonable person could find fault with. Not could they find fault with the message. But in some brief moments last night, Hollywood’s true smug elitist nature bubbled to the surface.

The first such moment came during actor Mark Rylance’s introduction for the Best Supporting Actress category.

“Opposition is really good in society… Sometimes, the most supportive thing is to oppose. Something women seem to be better at than men, is opposing without hatred.”

This was a sexist blanket statement. If the roles were reversed, people would be up in arms. The purpose here was to empower women which made it a good lead for the award, but he bashed men too. This statement was contrary to the message of the night.

Another brief lapse came during Viola Davis’s acceptance speech.

“People ask me all the time, ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say,’“Exhume those bodies.’ Exhume those stories — the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist, and thank God I did because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. ”

The speech was impassioned, raw, and inspirational. But she also essentially that only she and her artist friends celebrated the human condition. She set herself above the common person. Struck me the wrong way.

And finally, during a long horrendously unfunny bit, Jimmy Kimmel brought out unsuspecting tourists to meet celebrities sitting in the front row. All the stars were laughing at the normal people showing up during their big award show.  As if the average person was something worth laughing at. The skit had no punchline to it other than that.

As the tourists awkwardly made their way past the celebrities,  Kimmel asked a young Asian tourist what her name was. She had to tell him twice as he struggled to pronounce it.

He then joked that it wasn’t a real name like her husband’s name, Patrick.

On a night when diversity was being celebrated.

 

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Antihero Protagonist: Louis Bloom

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Antiheroes come in shades of grey. Lou is the darkest of dark grey. He would be black in any story that didn’t feature him as the protagonist. There is not much redeeming to him. He is willing to manipulate and harm people to justify his own ends. Dan Gilroy, the writer of the film, describes him as a sociopath and refers to the film as an antihero success story.

The introductory scene brings Lou’s darkness out in a quick two pages. It is not available on YouTube unfortunately. So here is the scene in screenplay form.

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In two pages, Lou gets established as a creepy man who shouldn’t be trusted by people. Common story convention says to introduce your main character doing something that shows us who we are. So we begin here with our sociopathic antihero cutting a chainlink fence. As he notices that he is not alone, he turns and gives this charming yet unsettling smile.

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It’s not in the screenplay but it gives us our first impression of Lou. This is the first we actually see of him as the shot prior to this had him in the dark. Jake Gyllenhall killed it with his starved coyote look.

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He seems so feral in both appearance and in how he moves. When the security guard’s light hits him, he reacts like a nocturnal animal caught in headlights.  He gives his first words, a lie to get the guard’s defenses down. He feigns not knowing what he’s doing. We can tell he’s done this sort of thing his whole life. There is no worry nor tremble in Lou once he’s caught.

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He smiles wider and advances toward the officer, where he can get a better look at what he’s dealing with. His confidence grows once he sees that his opposition is only a security guard. He takes out his ID, continues his lie until he’s close enough to pounce.

We are given this image to close out the opening sequence.

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The fate of the guard is left up to our imagination. After seeing the entire film through and see what Lou is capable of, it’s scary to imagine just what he could have done to this man.

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Go Go Power Reboot.

Everything gets a reboot these days. Robocop. Ghost Busters. Spider-man. Batman. Superman. Every year Hollywood spits out a remake of a once successful brand.

Now the time has come for the  hit 90s television show, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,  to be rebooted into a movie.

Trailer just dropped for it.

As I expected when the movie was first announced, this is a lot more grounded and realistic. The campy atmosphere of the 90s show is dead and buried. The Power Rangers are in a Breakfast Club type scenario. They ditch and get their powers from an alien rock. Then Rita attacks them.

My first impressions is that this movie is going to be forgettable. It’ll be in line with that Robocop reboot rather than a Dawn of the Dead. They have gone away from the source material. This is what the studio behind the movie must believe will give it broad appeal. Out goes the spandex and bright colors, in comes the dark palette and realistic costumes.

I don’t think this movie will be atrocious. It won’t be like Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie which almost killed the franchise. It will be a safe action film with unimpressive visual effects. I’m confident in believing this will have no lasting legacy.

The costumes for the movie and the tone of the trailer don’t seem appealing to children or the fans who are nostalgic for the original show. It’s in the sweet spot where it’s too serious for kids but not adult enough in concept to get people to go see it. Because it’s not going full camp, the movie will be trapped by the sheer absurdity of the Power Rangers concept.

Powers Rangers was a show where the main villain was trapped in a dumpster for 10,000 years. A giant head in a jar told a gold robot to get five teenagers with attitude to combat her in spandex while powered by dinosaurs. At the end of every episode, the villain made her bad guys grow a thousand feet tall and then the rangers got in their giant robot to fight them.

Trying to make this serious and grounded takes the soul out of it. Power Rangers barely has a soul to begin with as its an Americanization of an old Japanese show, but there is a soul there. There are ways to tell more dark Power Ranger stories. Power Rangers: In Space, Power Rangers: Time Force, and Power Rangers: RPM  all told dark stories but embraced the absurd concept.

This movie will make some money. The budget for the film is 150 million dollars. I wager that at best it can make 200 million world wide. But even that I feel shaky on. The original Power Rangers movie made 66 million dollars on a 15 million dollar budget. That was when Power Rangers was at the height of its popularity. They will need more than 66 million for this to be considered a success.

There’s still a long time until the release of the film. I am keeping an open mind toward it. Trailers can be misleading. They are not created by the director. So the movie could be lighter in tone.

But from what’s been shown so far, it’s not looking morphinominal.

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To Snap Or Not To Snap?

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy are responsible for dark reboots we’ve been getting of classic characters. Nolan is a good director. Memento is still his best. The Dark Knight is a close second. I liked the trilogy. Batman Begins is a reintroduction to Batman and an establishing of the gritty realism that would permeate the rest of the trilogy. The Dark Knight is a legitimately good movie. Heath Ledger’s Joker deserved that Oscar. The Dark Knight Rises is a follow-up that Nolan’s heart was not into. The theme of rise is redundant and I could not get into the stakes of the film. It had a weird commentary on the 99 percent and Occupy Wallstreet movement. I felt that was out of place. His take on Batman toned down the supernatural more comic-booky elements and focused on the crime drama of Gotham. I appreciated Nolan’s vision but not every hero should be dark like this.

If only someone told Zack Snyder. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is an attempt to do for Superman what Nolan did for Batman. I don’t want to talk the movie. I saw it when it came out. The movie tries to portray what life would be like for Superman if he was real? What would it be like for him growing up? I think there could be a good story here, but Snyder’s take was not doing it for me. He was trying to tell too many stories at once. Alien Invasion. Superman’s Origins. The Legacy of Krypton. Should the government trust Superman? Pa Kent is crazy. Will Superman have to kill? It wasn’t hard to keep up with them. It was that none of them were executed well. The fights were cool the first time around, but I barely remember any of them.

The one scene I do remember is the climax.  Superman is put in a moral dilemma. General Zod won’t stop until he kills every person. So Superman snaps General Zod’s neck. He violates his moral code and takes a life to save a family. This scene encapsulates everything wrong with this movie.

It’s an attempt to bring Superman out of his black and white comic book morality and into world of grey. Snyder wants to ground Superman from being a symbol for truth, justice and the American way into a person like us with more power. We’d make the same choice that Superman does. We’d snap General Zod’s neck too.

It’s a depressing as hell scene. Superman is mentally bothered by his murder. He’s on the verge of the tears The family he saves is not grateful. I don’t think they’re seen again.

There is no triumph to this. And I think triumph is a part of Superman. People should be excited when they see him flying through the city. He’s an ideal to live up to. People may not be able to fly and be strong like Superman, but they should aspire to be moral like him. That’s what I always got from the Superman side of the character. He needs to triumph and the people in Metropolis should be there to celebrate his fights against evil.  The human side is that he’s a corny boy scout from Kansas. Humble and wants to help people. He takes a job as a journalist to keep up appearances, hit on Lois and keep his ear close to trouble.

I don’t hate the idea of Superman murdering Zod, but I hate it in an origin story. Superman needed to triumph in the first story.  This movie should have been about learning who Superman is. He needs to be established. Snyder jumped the gun. He wanted to have this Superman kill scene in this movie. Maybe in a Man of Steel 2 this scene would work. It’s too early for Superman to kill. In my opinion.

In this movie Pa Kent commits suicide in front of Clark. Metropolis and Smallville are decimated. Superman has to kill Zod to stop him. Give the character a bone. Let him have a moral victory to ride off into the sun on. I watch the ending of others superhero movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight and it feels like the heroes were super heroic.

The Avengers put aside their differences and save New York from an alien invasion. It felt like without the Avengers, the world would have ended.  Batman proves to the Joker that everyone is not like him and that he is alone. He does kill Harvey Dent but the appreciation for his sacrifice is there from Commissioner Gordon and his son.

Man of Steel‘s Superman never feels like a hero to me.

Movement in “Ghostbusters”

My copy of Robert Towne’s screenplay of Chinatown has a foreword from the man himself; An essay on the role of the screenplay in the film-making process and the importance of movement by actors. Here are a few noteworthy excerpts from that foreword.

“But it has always struck me that in movies, far more than in any other dramatic medium movement, not simply action, is the most defining of character.”

“Consider Fonda in Clementine again. His way of moving embodied paradox: at once awkward and graceful, diffident yet full of purpose, his ambling walk would shift effortlessly – like a powerful thoroughbred changing gaits to a long stride straight and relentless as a plumbine.”

“No one, I think, can really say what makes an effective screenplay because no one really knows what makes a screenplay effective. Certainly part of the problem stems from the fact that screenplays can’t be judged by reading them. They may read well or badly but that often says more about the reader than the screenplay.

The only way a screenplay can be evaluated, almost by definition is not on the page, but by viewing the movie it caused to be made. It certainly can be read and even enjoyed, but you’re stuck with the inescapable fact that it was written to be seen.”

The first quote is the one that stuck with me. Movement is the most important character aspect on the screen. It is fitting. Movies are moving pictures after all. The words on the page help the actor internalize the character and bring them to life.

1984’s Ghostbusters relies on the gifts of its talented acting staff, in particular Bill Murray. Murray is known for his one-liners and comedy. His movement is as essential as his voice to getting the audience behind Peter Venkman. gb1

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The “manic gleam” and “underlying instability” (this latter of the two would be considered cheating by an old writing professor of mine) are the information the page gives to the reader on the Peter Venkman character.

The scene flows well on the page, but is so much funnier on the screen.

I watched the scene with the sound off and watched all the little nuances he put into his performance. The little smiles he gives to the blonde Co-Ed. His eyes go wide when he’s talking to her. He’s encouraging her as he talks. He feigns amazement at her answers. Contrast that to how quickly he turns the cards around for the guy. He relishes in the electroshocks he gives the guy. He moves his hand over slowly and pretends like he’s not going to shock him. He moves his eyebrows to get the co-ed’s attention. Winks at her and Then he shock the kid. With no sound, it’s apparent that he wants the guy to go and for the co-ed to spend some time with him.

This is a just a damn good introductory scene because we’re given information about the supernatural and introduced to a character in a unique humorous way. By the end of the scene, we know Venkman. We can’t wait to see this guy bust some ghosts

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Welcome to The Silver Screen, Deadpool.

20th Century Fox has done the unthinkable. They have opened Pandora’s Box and unleashed the Merc with A Mouth on the masses. Bad parents will  rue the day they let their children watch a masked psychopath cut off his own hand in the theater.

Fox’s Deadpool works. It will not win any Oscars. It was not made to. It was a gift to the fans of the character and an apology for a past wrong-doing.

In 2009, 20th Century Fox plopped a turd in the lap of every Deadpool fan with his portrayal in X-men Origins: Wolverine. A character known for his talking had his mouth sewn shut and turned into the unspeakable.

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The portrayal was universally panned. The movie was highly offensive to not only Deadpool fans but movie fans everywhere. The only enjoyable version of X-men Origins: Wolverine was the leaked workprint version. That may be the greatest comedy film ever created. Certainly in the same league as Some Like It Hot.

A Deadpool movie had been rumored for years after the butchering of the character. A script floated around online. I  got my hands on it while in college.  It was decent. This new movie has scenes from that script. I like this movie a lot more than that old script.

Deadpool is a relatively faithful adaptation of Joe Kelly’s run of Deadpool. Adaptations should focus on bringing the spirit of the story to another medium. Fans want a 1:1 reproduction of the source material and that is not feasible in most cases. What works in one medium does not necessarily work in another.

Deadpool has the spirit of the character down. Deadpool is a tortured psychopath masquerading his insecurities and fears with sardonic wit. The Deadpool character is known for his humor and breaking the fourth wall. It is forgotten by many  that he is a man who has cancer eating away at his insides everyday and he has killed many people. He is a mercenary, not a comedian.

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Joe Kelly’s run focused on Deadpool’s insecurities. Deadpool was not a hero. He’s your prototypical anti-hero on acid. He detested the word, “hero”. He once beat a woman to a bloody pulp for continuing to call him one.

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The humor in the comic book was strong. It was very much a part of the book and character’s success. Joe Kelly seamlessly added in references to television shows, celebrities, and more. Some of which have stood the test of time.

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Deadpool takes the best of Joe Kelly’s run.

All the elements of that Deadpool character are in this movie.His checkered past. His aversion to the word, “hero”. His mangled face. His fourth-wall breaking. His scumbag friend, Weasel. The gratuitous violence. The old blind woman that he keeps locked in his house for company.

Blind Al and Weasel made it to the movie screen. We have come a long way from 1978’s Superman.

Deadpool is at its best when the title character is running around in his red tights and mask. Ryan Reynolds is having a lot of fun with the role. He brings the insanity and tragedy of Deadpool. The way Deadpool fights and acts is straight out of one of his comic books. Reynolds’ timing is impeccable. He gets the character. I appreciate the love he’s shown Deadpool.

I have one gripe with Deadpool in this movie. He’s not ugly enough.

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He should have looked more like an eighties horror movie villain. Closer to Jason Voorhees than Ryan Reynolds with a bad rash. The audience should have had the same reaction as the characters when Deadpool removes his mask. His face should be stomach-churning. I also think we shouldn’t have seen his face until the final scene. It should have been a running joke that we see only the characters’ reaction to it. I know they had a lower budget for this film so I’ll let this slide.

The movie does struggle when Deadpool is not on the screen. The flashback scenes showing his romance with Vanessa were some of the weaker scenes of the movie. They are funny, but not gripping.  The movie starts us off with him in the suit. He’s gunning and slicing mooks. Every flashback scene pulled us away the present to deliver us the past.

The film should have started where the story started. Instead we get a little bit of present Deadpool and then some flashback. More Deadpool, more flashback. Once the flashbacks stopped and the movie could just go, it flowed. The movie had to do the origin story which hurt it. It tried to do A Day in the Life of Deadpool and Deadpool’s Origin all at same time. It should have tried to be one or the other.

If they went down that path,  it would have been thirty minutes without Deadpool in the suit. The audience might have grown restless. So maybe in medias res is the better way to start.

The movie throws a busload of jokes at you. Most of them work. The ones that don’t, you forget about quickly. Every audience will react to this movie differently. The jokes about Blade 2, Green Lantern and X-Men Origins: Wolverine went over the heads of my audience. Everyone will find something funny. I could see people disliking all the dick jokes and over-the-top swearing. It is very sophomoric but the tone fits Deadpool.

The film was more sexually-charged than I was expecting for a comic book film. There were jokes about masturbation and pegging. They were funny, but I hope they don’t turn some people off to the movie.

The film is a fun time in the theater. If you’re looking for  sweet film with decent action, questionable acts around stuffed animals, and a ton of humor, you should check out Deadpool.

I do have one thing about the ending though.  Spoiler Alert.

 

Deadpool gets the girl. He’s a character who’s not supposed to get the Hollywood Ending. The scene prior to it was an attempt to define Deadpool as not a hero. Colossus, an X-man, tells Deadpool to not shoot the main villain in the head. Deadpool can define himself as a hero by sparing a life. Deadpool does not hesitate and blasts him in the head in the middle of Colossus’s speech. This is telling us Deadpool is no hero. However he is given the hero’s ending by having Vanessa accept him despite his ugly looks.

For a movie that prided itself on deviating from the traditional path, it had a traditional ending. To be Deadpool is to suffer. He can’t get the girl. What will they do with her in the sequel? Kill her off? It seems like they have to. Will Deadpool get married?

I have high expectations for the sequel.

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True Horror

David Fincher’s Zodiac is at its best when it uses the power of the screen to dramatize the horror and brutality of the Zodiac Killer’s killing spree in the 1970s.

I consider the depiction of the Lake Berrysea attack to be the film’s strongest scene. The scene where Robert Graysmith flees from the cellar as he hears steps above is a close second.

The horror in the scene is in the powerlessness of the two victims. Held at gunpoint, they have no choice but to listen to the demands of a hooded man. Horror films rely on excessive gore and creative murders to engage the audience. Unconventional deaths and weapons are used to shock the audience into jumping or grimacing at the violence on the screen.

In this scene, all we have is a pistol. It gives the Zodiac Killer all the power he needs to impose his twisted fantasies on this innocent couple. He does not need to shoot it. The threat of violence is enough to subdue them.

Fincher could have chosen to show us the backs of the the victims being pierced by the giant knife of the Zodiac Killer.  We could have seen blood splattering all over the place. Instead Fincher keeps us on the faces of the couple. They do not lose their humanity as the attack occurs. And that is why this scene works so well.

In your traditional horror film, humanity is stripped from the victims. We want to see them smashed, bashed, sliced, and crushed in crazy new ways. The killer becomes the hero. We root for them. How are they going to dish out the pain? Much like how we turn our heads as we drive to see the aftermath of car crashes, we watch horror films to see blood and gore. We want those stupid people to get what is coming to them.

Take this scene from Jason X.

Does anyone care about this blonde as her face is frozen and then smashed to pieces? We aren’t supposed to. She’s attractive but the lure and appeal of this franchise is the murder of attractive young teenagers. She is killed and then thrown away unceremoniously. She becomes an object for the audience’s blood lust.

These two films are wildly different in execution and concept but that is why I am comparing and contrasting them. They do both have the same job of trying to engage the audience using horror.

To go back to scene from Zodiac, Fincher does not give the audience a chance to turn the Zodiac Killer into a hero. The sound of the knife entering and exiting their bodies is terrifying. It’s unnerving to watch the couple’s reactions to the attack. No score is played underneath the attacks. The events play out like they did on September 27th, 1969. All we hear are the sounds of nature, the knife stabs, and the screams of the victims.

If one is to succeed at horrifying the audience, they must allow the victims of violence to retain their humanity.