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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Annihilation



     Online, there is a site called scp-wiki.net. It is basically a fictional set of tests and information files on cryptids and anomalies, all being kept in scientific facilities like Area 51 under the name Secure Contain Protect. The most popular of which is code named SCP 682, which is basically a tarrasque, an nigh-unkillable monster. Then there is SCP 173; a creepy fetid doll that moves like a Weeping Angel out of Doctor Who (it can only move when you can't see it, which includes when you blink), and kills anything in reach. SCP 096 will relentlessly hunt down anyone that has seen its face...
     But, then there are things like SCP-1990, a stuffed tiger that grants you a mediocre version of a wish. (Wishing for $20 gets you a jar of cool, liquid metal that is equal to $5 if turned into nickels)
     SCP is kind of a testament to humanity, our scientific process, and creativity. There are hundreds of entries on how they have tried to kill SCP 682 with other anomalous objects, like asking a coffee machine for something to kill it with... it is dark, but also kinda silly, and as we interact with things and understand them more, we become less and less afraid, and more bemused.


     SCP is what was going through my mind while watching Annihilation. Everything about it, from the suicidal task, to the weird but beautiful anomalies, the primary solution to weird shit being guns and SCIENCE!... It is probably as close as one will get to an SCP movie considering the copyright on that site would be a goddamn nightmare.
     Annihilation is a thriller with a bit of body horror and existentialism. Though, while existentialism is the right word for the genre of horror it presents, it is more nihilistic than existentialist (can't spell annihilation without "nihil").


    Basically the story is that a meteor crashed 3 years ago, and created this prismatic field. A government group was assigned to study, contain, and hopefully eradicate this anomaly when people that went into the field never came out.
     The body horror aspect comes in when they figure out that the field is affecting them, changing their DNA at a rapid pace in a way best described as cancer, and the changes make their minds go a bit Looney Toons.

    The film is very picturesque, with some amazing cinematography, and keeps up its atmosphere of disorientation and confusion alongside unexpected beauty very well. I wouldn't be surprised to see it in the Oscars next year for best cinematography or visual effects (well, kinda surprised given how the voting works, but not surprised).
    The story however... It's okay. The story is a vehicle for the film's visuals and thrills, but it is a bit clunky and not all that fun to ride in, but the visuals are so pretty you can kind of ignore the bumpy ride. It kind of wants you to ask questions like "how did it work?" so they didn't have to answer, but if you are like me, and are willing to just accept "pigs have no sleeves" as an answer when not given enough information, then you won't really be asking the nihilistic questions they want you to.
     I do mean nihilistic. The film has a running theme in the shimmery field of weird shit of asking the question "How do I know I'm me? Or that anyone is who they are?" which is the point of view of someone questioning their purpose in a world after determining nothing has an innate purpose. Or in shorter terms, nihilism. An existentialist confronted with the same questions would answer instead "Because I say I'm me, and they say they are." Questioning whether you are still you is a concern if you identify yourself by certain things, and not based on just being you.
     It's messy and a bit complicated, but basically I wasn't really impacted by the questions the film wanted you to ask because I was never really questioning the answer, and just asking the question again doesn't change the consideration of the answer. It asks if things have meaning because we say they do; my answer is yes, and it didn't really present any reason to change that answer... Not helped by the fact that a lot of the asking of those questions is caused by the field messing with people's heads.

     Also the characters weren't that fun or interesting. Natalie Portman had only one part where she actually emoted a bit, and then the rest of the time she was just in Amidala mode. All the other characters were one note, and the only character whose name I can remember, Anya, was the only one to eventually have two notes. I wasn't really watching to see Natalie save her husband so much as to see the mystery concluded. The real main character on screen was the visuals.


    In conclusion, the film has a lot of beautiful and creative visuals, but its story is just a vehicle for the visuals and thrills, with the plot structure of a slasher film. It can be fun, but I don't recall much that I enjoyed outside of the artistry.


     Honestly, I would've preferred the film took an SCP approach to the idea, watching a team of scientists examine it and try to figure out how to stop or contain it (given the solution found, I'm surprised none of them thought "Hey, why don't we bomb it?"). It would've been a more unique plot structure, and also allow for more room for character growth and interactions than just "I'm scared of the weird things going on here." There could be things like "what happens if we put a bunch of rats in heavily reinforced and well stocked cages, and put them in the field?" or "Maybe instead of always trying to get to the center, we try seeing what the inside is like first by telling the team to return?" Or, "what if we parachuted onto the beach?" "Is the field spherical or just a disk?" "Can we get a boat and get to the beach that way?" "If our goal is to stop what is at the beach, why are we sending small squads in instead of a platoon?"
     Don't make your audience ask questions about your mystery if you didn't think that hard about some logical answers to problems. I wasn't even thinking that hard, I was just riffing near the end there...
     So Fixer Sue Tip of the week! Think about how characters can take alternate paths to the same goal!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Keep the Change (2017)



     With regards to reviews, there are certain things readers need to keep in mind when looking at a review by someone. Reviewers tend to specialize in a couple fields, knowing the in's and out's of them, and what makes a good text in that field. If you are a careful review reader, you will learn the specialties of reviewers, and have a better understanding of the value of a reviewer's opinion on a subject.
     For instance, do not trust the opinion of Armond White on Rotten Tomatoes. He gives scores that will make his blog get clicked on, and that's it. He specializes in contrarianism.
     With regards to me... It should be fairly clear that I watch a lot of animated films, action films, et cetera. The only odd things out are that I like musical movies, and I don't accept animation quality as an excuse for poor writing. What may not be as clear is the things I don't like.

     I'm not a fan of personal dramas. War dramas and some historical events, sure, I like 'em, but I am a poor judge on their quality. But, stuff like romcoms, Oscar bait like The Phantom Thread, and other dramas that are more focused on personal relationships I am a particularly poor judge of because I do not like them. I can recognize their quality, I can recognize an audience for them, and agree that they are worth seeing... I just don't like them.

      With that in mind, I saw Keep the Change during the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. The guiding premise behind it is that the main characters and their actors are all on the spectrum to varying degrees.
       My opinion on the film's quality isn't the most useful info I can provide you. I was not its audience after all. I can, however, help promote the film a bit to help it find its true champions, and I know that they are out there.

      The film has a very accurate portrayal of people on the spectrum, and how they are trying to live a life they can enjoy. It is commendable to produce such a film, and I know a lot of people on tumblr would love to see it.
      I did not find it easy to watch. It requires a lot of patience for all the characters, and an understanding of the spectrum. If you weren't already interested by the prospect of characters and actors on the spectrum, you may not be the audience either. It gets kind of hard to watch at times... I even had to remove myself from the theatre at one point because I KNEW what was going to happen in my absence, and I did not want to see it.
     But, that is what I mean when I say I am not the audience for this movie. This movie was made to make a point, and like a teacher yelling at a noisy room when I was quietly reading, I knew it wasn't aimed at me.

     This film was made for people on the spectrum to see themselves in it, similar to the feelings around Black Panther. It was made to prove a point that it is possible to have actors on the spectrum without resorting to Forest Gump. It was made for the people that wanted to see the lives of people on the spectrum. It was made for people who love artistic indie movies.

      If you fit into the above, or know someone that does, the film is worth a shot. I don't know if it is on Netflix or an equivalent, though there is probably some way to watch if you google it. If there is a local showing (I'm seeing a lot of Greater ____ Jewish Film Festivals) you should probably see it there to give the crew some direct support.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Early Man

Image not very indicative of the plot

     Aardman is kind of the clown car of the Animated Film race. It isn't fast, it almost certainly will never win, but it is clear that winning was never its goal, it's just here to have fun. They definitely have memorable characters and products, but they feel a lot more subdued compared to Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Bluesky, Illumination, and Sony.
     However, that is kind of in its favor. When contrasted with the likes of Sherlock Gnomes, which had a trailer before the film, Early Man looks a lot more sophisticated. They share the same target audience (children under 10), but Early man feels more like a PG Monty Python sketch than a modern kids movie.


     You know, we ought to make a distinction between kids films. Sherlock Gnomes is no where in the same ballpark as Zootopia, or even Kung fu Panda. It is more the same wheelhouse as Storks, or Boss Baby.
     I'm inclined to call them B-movies, as they definitely lack the ideas and follow-through of an A-rank film, but are passable for just some entertainment. Note, this isn't movies that have a B-movie concept, it is films that don't go whole-hog and try to make something amazing. For instance, while Early Man is a B-movie, The Croods is an A-movie because of how they played with their premises.

     This is NOT to say Early Man is bad, far from it. It is just saying that the only reason it may be Oscar nominated next year is because a slot needed to be filled (Boss Baby we are looking at you). It's plot is that the local community center is going to be torn down, and they need to win a football (soccer) game to keep it. Replace community center with hospitable land and set it in the "bronze age" and you got the film.
     That's what I mean with not aiming high. It wasn't looking for a more complex plot, Aardman just wanted a vehicle to tell jokes. You can't really criticize that, especially not when it kinda works. Several people in the audience were laughing pretty hard at some of the jokes (ridiculously hard at a couple throwaways).

     I enjoyed my time watching, but I fear I will forget the plot and characters fairly quickly. I also don't really feel the desire or need to see it again; I'll remember it later when I see it on Netflix, but then pass it over as there are better options available.
     Which is about how I can recommend it; if you've seen everything else, it is an acceptable movie to see. I definitely wouldn't see this before Black Panther (and you should go see Black Panther).


     When someone shows you a basic bird house, the box with a triangle roof, circular window, and basic dowel rod perch, but it is painted beautifully, how do you respond to the question, "How could it be better?"
     This is kind of the same position I was in when looking at Tarzan. I mean, sure it could be better, but doing "better" would require changing it fairly fundamentally, and it is already fine to great on its own.
     With the premise of "Cavemen playing football against Greeks," you can't really do better than what Aardman did. Any other attempts would be fundamentally different, and couldn't really be classified as the same movie.
      Aardman's sense of humor is what caries the film, and what makes it worth the time spent watching. What works in Early Man works because it was the British sense of humor


     I am looking forward to Aardman's next movie though, which is another Shaun the Sheep movie, subtitled "Farmageddon." I really liked the first movie, which was dialog free, and the sequel appears to be as well. It is a rarely seen style that they do well in.


     At the very least, I will say this: Early Man is more worthy of your time and money than Boss Baby and Sherlock Gnomes combined. 8.3/10.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lego Ninjago

   Is every Lego movie going to be about daddy issues? The first Lego Movie was about a kid trying to connect with his dad who was taking things too seriously to the point of becoming foolish, Lego Batman was about how Batman can't connect with people or have a family because of his trauma (said hang ups prevented him from being a good adoptive father to Dick Grayson), and now Ninjago is about how Garmadon is an absentee father whose son is hated because he is the son of Garmadon, and how they reconnect.
   Two films is exploring an idea; three is a worrying pattern. I love the Lego Movie and Lego Batman, they explored their themes well. But with Ninjago, it is starting to become worrying, like the company thinks they HAVE to have family issues to do well. (Given that it is Warner Bros as the production company, it's not an unreasonable fear)


I enjoyed my time while watching Ninjago, but its flaws are rather painfully apparent.


   First of all, the main character, Lloyd, is rather plain... but not nearly as plain as his teammates. I can only remember the name of ONE of his teammates, and it is solely because him saying his name was a punchline to a joke, when Garmadon says he doesn't even know the names of the rest of his team. His teammates are just tools for the plot, with a single personality trait each that they exhibit purely for comedy. I remember their elemental powers and personality traits more than the characters themselves, and that is a HUGE screenwriting sin.
     If they were removed entirely from the film, the story would actually have been stronger. Since Lloyd is made out to be an outcast, if he truly had no friends, his hang-ups, mistakes, and family connections would've ended up a lot stronger by contrast. But, I imagine the creators were a bit stiffled by the Ninjago canon (Lego has a habit of making grand, epic stories for their characters. To the point where a LOT of my writing is influenced by their most epic series, Bionicle. There were actually 3 Bionicle movies as well, which were, well, not that good. Would love to see a redo on the series, but definitely NOT with the current Bionicle iteration, so it probably won't happen).


   Having the friends around also introduces other problems. Like, the fact the other 5 members have elemental powers. Standard fare, basically the Bionicle powers minus Stone, and replacing wind with lightning (which, depending on some physics, could theoretically be the same thing). Lloyd is stated to not have an elemental power, kind of. It is given as "green" which is eventually described as the connection between everything... but that is a really weak explanation. Some better options would be to instead have his power be darkness, for his connection to Garmadon... or, to go Captain Planet, Heart. By saying his elemental power is "green" and holding fast to that, the value of it in the story is cheapened. Not to mention that the elemental powers of his team are utterly useless outside the context of two set pieces (harhar), and ultimately do nothing to move the plot forward.
   This is made somewhat worse by the fact that, in the original Ninjago canon (I looked it up) his element is still "green power..." actually meaning literal energy. The Ninjago wikia states energy to be the strongest of all the elements (no shit, half the elements ARE energy). This could've been better handled by instead making his element be unstable, corruptive, and dangerous in the wrong hands... and therefore his father, Garmadon, actually helps him master the abiltiy Lloyds normal teacher (he isn't important. Like, really not. He spouts exposition that could've come from a more natural, less deus ex machinaey place) doesn't want to teach him. This could've given Lloyd some real conflict when his father later asks him to join him, as his father taught him control of his element, and was promising mastery of it.
   As is, in the film, Lloyd doesn't make any real choices. (Minus one, but that's in another section, and arguably isn't a choice.) He is given a lot of non-options, and just goes along. It never felt like the main character was leading the plot along, but the other way around. This kind of writing generates apathy for a character, but in a subtle way that kind of goes unnoticed.



   The film also kinda has a problem with being serious. It has moments that should be very serious, with no jokes, yet are squandered on meh material. Lloyd at one point loses his arm (a fact actually foreshadowed in the beginning... which made this a non-surprise actually). In a better written movie, it'd stay that way, regardless of his Lego nature... but here instead, it is the agony of watching them take a long time to just pop it back in.
   Why would it be better if he remained armless? Because just a couple minutes ago, Garmadon taught Lloyd how to throw. Permanently losing his arm after that would have been incredibly poignant, and could throw a huge bit of character development at the main characters. This could also be factored into the whole element of energy and corruption thing, where Garmadon could convince Lloyd that he could get his arm back with mastery of his powers.
   There is a phrase in gaming called "win more." It basically is about not being complacent, or using strategies that cement a victory. When you are winning, work to win more. This roughly translates into screenwriting along the lines of "pile even more shit on them." Make the character's choices HARD. An easy choice is friends vs idol, a hard choice is friends vs working legs. An even harder choice is friends, your mother, and a city that hates you, vs power, your father, and a working arm. (I know that sounds like Luke's decision, but his was kind of a non-decision since his father was a space nazi, vs Garmadon who is more like Bowser of Super Mario; a threat, but not deadly.)


   Finally, there is the culmination of everything... the lack of seriousness, blandness, and the lack of choice... Meowthra, a giant cat summoned by the ultimate weapon (a laser pointer). Now, Lloyd was told his sensei had this weapon, and he wanted to get rid of Garmadon for good, so he wanted to use it, but his sensei refused. First problem: his sensei should've said what the weapon did. Imagine if the ultimate weapon was instead just a nuke that Lloyd activated. Ultimately it would've actually been the sensei's fault.
   Why is it the sensei's fault? Because he is so useless, Garmadon managed to build a pretty much invincible mechsuit, and take over the city. The ninjago had nothing that could destroy the mech, so of course Lloyd would go get the ultimate weapon. They were backed into a corner, and Lloyd made a logical choice based on his available knowledge. If his sensei had said what the weapon did, they would've rightfully crossed that off the list of choices for dealing with the mech.
   This was the non-choice choice I referred to earlier. Normally, this kind of bad decision is made when a protagonist is being brash, and using the untested weapon turns things against the heroes... but things were already against the heroes, no known options were available, so the only thing left was the unknown. Not to mention Lloyd tried using the weapon merely as a threat to make Garmadon back down, only using it when pushed.
   So, Lloyd did everything logically, and right. It's treated as a mistake because that's the trope, but the trope was played on the wrong board. The film treats it like he let his emotions get the better of him, but there was no better.
   What's worse is that Meowthra is superflous, as is the ultimate weapon. The team could've just been brought to their lowest point by Garmadon's mech alone, and then be told to go out and seek the ultimate weapon to defeat him without their mechs. Meowthra doesn't add anything to the story, and its presence actively hurts it.


   To sum up... The plot isn't exactly bad, but the elements going into it don't click.
   My best suggestion for making the film better: forgo the canon entirely, and economize. Lloyd is the only ninja in Ninjago; he has no friends because everyone blames him for Garmadon's attacks, but love the green ninja for stopping them (same as the movie, except the no friends part). Garmadon returns with his own mech to counter the ninja's, and destroys Lloyd's mech. This forces Lloyd to go on a journey to find the ultimate weapon to free the city of Garmadon.
From there, the movie follows like it did... plus energy, and minus an arm, and what little his friends did.

   When told to make the stakes high in a story, impersonal stakes do nothing. The stakes must be personal for them to impact the plot and tension. Screenwriting is all about this, economizing, and flow. If characters are being functionally useless, they ought to be tossed. If an action can be removed without affecting the plot with any significance, then it is needless padding. If I can't even remember the names of central characters, then they are not that central. I can name all 9 members of the Fellowship of the Ring, because they were all central to the plot... and I've only seen that movie once, and none of the others (except the hobbit trilogy, but that is unrelated; but it has the same problem; can't name all the dwarves, not that important).


   If the film absolutely HAD to have the other ninjas, then they should have been treated like the power rangers: of equal importance to the story, and therefore given equal depth. I had to look up what the hell was up with the ice ninja, because the film just tried to pass off him being a robot as just a joke/quirk. The regular series has him as a part of an entire species of androids, but there are no other characters like him in the film, so it is left as a bizarre and pointless quirk. He's a fricken robot in highschool! There was an awesome TV series about the life of a teenage robot, so an entire series can be built around trying to fit in such a situation, and could've been used by the film to endear us to the ice ninja as an awkward social outcast. If you want to have 6 protagonist characters, you gotta devote time to them. The film doesn't give me enough to work with to tell how the others could be expanded, thus I default to recommending their removal, but if they are absolutely necessary, make them necessary.


All in all... the weakest Lego theatrical release. Hopefully the true sequel to The Lego Movie is a LOT better, or else the franchise might be headed downhill after such a high point.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cars 3

     One of the main problems of the Cars films (not all of them, just the pretty big one) was that their plots were the same as a couple of 90's films. Now, I don't mean the same like "Avatar and Pocahontas are totally the same! Remember that scene where Pocahontas summoned the animals of the forest to beat the shan out of the conquistadors?!" I mean the same like the first Cars film has the plot of Doc Hollywood, and Cars 2 is The Man Who Knew Too Little. Different characters and climaxes, but no originality to the plot.
     Cars 3 averts that.




     The closest relative plot I can come up with for Cars 3, is Herbie: Fully Loaded, but even that is incorrect. This is legitimately an original (or, as original as a movie plot can be) story from Pixar. And it is a racing film that is ACTUALLY about racing. The characters also shine better as the film goes after a self vs self, and self vs nature approach. There is an antagonist or two, but they serve more as the drive forward for the characters, and more represent nature as a force than as obstacles in the characters's paths.
     I can honestly say I enjoyed this film, certainly a lot more than the first one. (I never saw the second, because I like life.) Going in to the movie, I was admittedly worried that the plot was going to be "Lightning is a dick; he learns not to be a dick. He succeeds because he is not a dick anymore." But thankfully that wasn't rehashed, and thus Lightning was actually a very sympathetic character throughout. Newly introduced character Cruz was a lot more enjoyable in the second half, whereas in the first she seemed like the load (Trope meaning a character that is useless and must be lugged around). It does provide a nice contrast to how she ends up, but she was really starting to get annoying, until the film suddenly decided to make her sympathetic.
     That is pretty much the flaw of the films: a character is annoying for way too long. The first film had the green mustached racer that won in the end and was a bigger dick than Lightning... and he's back in this film playing a racing sportscaster. I cannot recall his name for the life of me, so I'll just call him Rush; because racing puns, and he reminds me of Rush Limbaugh. Rush wasn't at all funny, yet kept coming back because the plot needed to dump on the lead. Kinda the same with Mater; there was thankfully very little of him in the film, but very little does not mean zero unfortunately.
     If Cars had less annoying characters, it might be higher up in the tomato score. But, since it does, the best of the trilogy actually about matches the original's score.

     Good rules of thumb for a story: if we are genuinely made to hate a character's personality, either limit the exposure to it, or have karma catch up with them. The exception being main villains, but you better have a satisfying payout, or else it'll be anti-climactic.


     I'd honestly say Cars 3 is a solid 7/10. It's a good average, animated film. The animated short before it, Lou, was very cute, and kind of Looney Tunes. Unless there are other contenders, it'll likely win Best Animated Short next Oscars.



     Speaking of other contenders actually... There is going to be another Frozen animated short. This time in front of Pixar's next film, The Book of Lif- Coco. I meant Coco, not the Guillermo Del Toro film with nearly the same plot but a better visual style and character motivations.
     This one seems... a bit desperate. The preview for the Frozen short seems to have the ENTIRETY of the plot in it. The actual short likely is only a couple minutes longer. And based just on the preview I already hate it; and I LOVE the original Frozen. it's about Arendell at Christmas, and how *GASP* they have no family traditions for Christmas! So Sven (reindeer) and Olaf go out to find some family traditions!
     It is the kind of saccharine crap that people associate with bad Christmas shorts. and Disney wanted to ADVERTISE IT. To get people to go see Coco! It really doesn't look good for Coco, as this move seems uncharacteristically desperate.
     Also, way to go Pixar, an original plot here, and then you use the same plot from a film released 3 years ago. Even if an animated film does take 3 years from conception to completion, that's still enough time to realize yer gonna need a rewrite. Hell, Zootopia did just that, and got done a year after the rewrite, and is now one of my top 10 animated films. (By the by, The Book of Life is also in the top 10, partly due to its visual style.)


     But, if there is one thing to look forward to... I just discovered that The Incredibles 2 comes out next year! Directed by Brad Bird again! Hype train, woo woo!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

     The past couple weeks, I've been non-ironically calling The Lego Batman the best Batman movie I've ever seen, and semi-ironically calling Zach Galifianakis one of the best Jokers (either just ahead or behind Cesar Romero; though both behind Mark Hamill honestly). Though it is only recently that I figured out why I really like this batman, while I dislike the others:

      I hate the modern Batman. I hate how people love the Joker as some "manifestation of Chaos" and revel in his murderous crime sprees. I hate how Batman is touted as being capable of being capable of beating EVERYONE in the DC universe, even and especially Superman, and has the emotional range of an "emo" teen. I hate how Harley Quinn is considered nothing but eye-candy. Finally, I hate how Batman started the trend of Super Hero films form DC being ridiculously dark (literally. It is hard to see in these films) and brooding.
     The Lego Batman plays to EVERYTHING I see the character as. A manchild with an over-inflated ego, fighting a clown that is obsessed with him to the point of it being a relationship, and actually made me sympathize with these people. It didn't shy away from the silly nature but embraced it, and found joy in the embrace. The film sought to make us root for Batman, not because we wanted him to beat the badguy, but for him to find happiness and grow as a person. It points out the problems behind Batman, and builds the film around them. I find it amazing how, this being a Lego film, the film had the freedom to make these decisions, and portray Batman in a way that is actually fun to watch.


      What I just said is probably "BLASPHEMY!!!!111!!!!1121!!" to a certain group of people. But then again they were probably screaming that when I didn't include Heath Ledger in the awesome Jokers (it's because he just played a crazy gangster with a gimmick like Jared Leto, and had nothing to do with being a deranged clown). It's blasphemy to say Batman isn't the most awesome thing since awesome, or that he is allowed to be anything but brooding or raging, or has any kind of color in his life other than gray, black, and blue. That fact is why I hate hearing about him so much. People ask why Superman isn't just a boring hero with no problems other than kryptonite, but I feel that way about Batman due to his memetic badass properties.
     Of course, it is also two-pronged. Batman could beat anyone... Except he won't. He will fail. He will always fail. It is as impossible for Batman to succeed as it was for Gilligan to build a boat. If Batman ever actually, truly wins, and stops the Joker, then his character is done. Sure, he has other villains... which he will also forever fail against. If he ever managed to win, he'd be done. My apathy to Batman is that, regardless of the outcome of any individual comic, or series, or film, Batman will never win. Even if Joker appears to die, he will just pop up again later. Arkham Asylum is a revolving door that could only let criminals break free at a faster rate if they didn't even bother to have a door. Batman is a boring failure hero to me. He can never truly win, so why even bother cheering for him?


     The Lego Batman answered all my concerns about the character. Though the end brings a status quo, Batman does actually win and move forward. It makes fun of his memetic badass properties, the problems with being a childish loner... The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie I've ever seen because it didn't just say "you love this because it is Batman" but gave me a reason to care what happened in it. It didn't induce apathy through darkness... it embraced everything about the Batman, and was so much better for it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hoodwinked


      Now, you may initially think, based off that DVD cover there, that this film was a direct to DVD film sold primarily at Target to confused grannies... But, Hoodwinked was actually released in theatres, and is utterly amazing.


      Is it "The Funniest Movie Since Shrek!"? No, not really. Unless you count Shrek 2, which came out a year before Hoodwinked, then it skates by only on the fact it's competition for that title is Chicken Little. Don't get me wrong, the film is funny and enjoyable, but that is not why I call it incredible.
     The film is incredible because it was made for less than eight million dollars.


     The film is basically Little Red Riding Hood meets Rashomon. Each person involved in the Granny's House Incident has their own side to the story... and they grow sillier with each new person. The plot is also a mystery, trying to find out who the "goodie bandit" is, stealing all the forest's recipes. As such, saying any more about the plot is spoilers; the only reason I care as such is that I want people to see this movie, and thus don't want to ruin the experience.
      The plot isn't especially good, but it is far from bad. There are times it feels like the story was two guys going "wouldn't it be funny if x?" but there is some genuinely clever stuff in this film that still makes it a fun ride.


      But like I said; this film isn't truly incredible for its plot, but for how it was made. The directors had a limited budget, had to train pretty much all their employees how to do animation, had 10 animation problems in every scene... Yet the film got made, and did spectacularly well.
      For its less than 8 million budget, it made 110 million globally (BoxOfficeMojo). In the opening weekend the film earned 12 million, which entirely paid for the costs (some of the box office revenue goes to the theatre, but on the opening weekend a larger portion goes to the production company). The film was a massive success, and well deserved.


      This film, though it is not perfect by any means, is in my top 10 films. Because it serves as an inspiration to me: you do not need super powerful particle effects, realistic fur or skin, or just perfect animation in general. What you need is a style, and a good story.
      Hoodwinked's animation is not smooth at all. Smooth animation calls for a lot of time spent meticulously moving bones and pieces, time spent rendering that smooth animation, and a ton of key frames. Time was something they didn't have a lot of, so they couldn't do as many key frames as smooth animation requires. So, instead they went with snappy. It could've been jerky, but they instead made everyone move quickly into their poses. This works well with the film's comedic timing, and gives the characters a unique expressive feel.
      One flaw common in cheap animation is to use a kind of world lighting; no cast shadows, shade, or color other than "mid-day sunny." Hoodwinked averts the problem by having mood lighting, using some of their render power to give shadows to the scenes and characters to make them feel more alive and visually appealing. They didn't go overboard with the lighting, or go full hog by adding stuff like bounce lighting, secondary lighting, et cetera... Just enough to make the scene look good.
     I mentioned before that the team had 10 problems in every scene. Due to their budget, they stated they had to pick 3 big ones to solve, then move on. This is actually something useful to know as an indie producer: you are going to have problems, fix the ones you reasonably can, and move on; don't get stuck trying to get it perfect.



     If I were an animation professor, I would be assigning Hoodwinked as my textbook; have students study the scenes, and piece together how they did what they did, and how they can do the same.
     Hoodwinked is by no means perfect, and that is precisely why it is so amazing.