Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tomb Raider

     I found the rotten tomatoes page for this film amusing. It hung around nearly a perfect 50% for so long. Though I'd say the viewer's grade of 70% is more correct.

     Here's the deal: the film was good. Had some cool sequences, but the pacing was a bit off. The first act lasted longer than it needed to, spending time on action sequences that didn't truly connect to the plot. Also on scenes that weren't strictly necessary to move the plot along (her pawning a necklace to get money could've been replaced with her just finding her father's stash).
      In addition, there were some sequences that tried to build up tension, but instead just felt gamey. Which is to be expected, given that this film was based off the 2013 game Tomb Raider. But lifting scenes straight from the games doesn't work quite the same in a movie as in a game. There is a sequence where she is trying to a void going down a water fall, and keeps jumping from frying pan to frying pan, and even remarks with a lampshading "Seriously?!" in regards to the fact she doesn't get a breather. This sequence would be good in a game (and it was), but in a movie it does reach levels of ridiculousness.
      But, beyond the pacing, there was another problem in the feel of the movie... it took itself too seriously. Everything is super gritty, dirty, painful... and there is no levity to the proceedings. The film is basically The Mummy with Brandon Fraser, minus the comedy that made it an adventure film instead of an action film.
      Lara Croft and Tomb Raider are adventures, not straight action. On an adventure, there has to be fun, otherwise it is a boring adventure. I get that Lara is pretty serious here because it is life and death... but that's why the other characters should pick up the slack. I can't even remember the name of the main villain, and he was so bland I sometimes confused him with some of his lackies. If he's gone stir crazy from hunting on the island for 7 years, SHOW IT. He should be bombastic; he should be beyond excited to find and enter the tomb, laugh at inappropriate times, and generally be a fun and memorable villain.

     What might've hurt the movie was sticking closely to the game. Lara Croft is not so difficult to work with that you have to copy her acclaimed game to do well. She is literally a more mountain climby version of Indiana Jones, with a bow or two pistols instead of a whip.
      I think sequels are very likely to occur, and may even do better than this origin story, but they will have to look at the story from a different angle than a game. What works in a game won't necessarily work in a movie. A unique story for Tomb Raider wouldn't even be that hard, it's just a game of madlibs:

"Lara goes to a __(burial location)___ in _(region)_ that contains an ancient _(magical thing)_ that needs to be __(verb)__ to save the _(location)_"

     Add some fun people to talk to, some jokes, action sequences with tomb traps, a crazy villain, and you got the makings of a good Tomb Raider movie.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

     In Monster Hunter, the main weapon I use is a Lance.
What if he comes at you with a pointed stick?
     The lance has THE strongest defense in the game series, especially in the latest entry, World. With the right abilities and moves, you can defend against ANY attack. Behind your shield, you are invincible. However, you can't hunt monsters just by blocking. You have to fight back as well.
     That's the thing with the lance; while it has the best defense, to use it best, you are meant to be aggressive. Think of fights and conflict as a scale containing positive and negative actions. A positive action is when you act, you attack, or you do something that gives you free reign to attack. Negative actions are when you resist, or negate someone else's positive action.
      You want to have that scale leaning heavily in the positive, but with enough in the negative to not die.

       That metaphor is about positive characters; characters that take action, and take control over their situation. Negative characters just go along for the ride and have nothing to really contribute.

        For instance, take Phoebe of The Magic School Bus:
We never made intros this long at my old school...
     She is just along for the ride. She has no claim to any positive actions over her situation, or the situations she is led to. Meanwhile, Arnold, the resident complainer, has made multiple positive actions. Though he still lacks control over his situations, he has made actions that exert control over the direction that they go, such as forcing his cousin to abandon her space junk by removing his helmet (if you have understood the references so far, you already know that one, but if you don't know, Magic School Bus is a series by Scholastic books that got turned into a TV show in 1994...)

      The Magic School Bus is the perfect comparison for A Wrinkle in Time.

     The plot is basically this: Mrs. Frizzle takes her class of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Scott on a trip to Ireland with Tusks (I call it Tuskreland), and then has them huff cave fumes to go on a psychedelic trip to find Meg's father inside Ego's mind.

     That may sound reductive, but the film honestly could use some trimming. For starters, the third kid's name isn't Scott, it's Hobbes. No, it's actually Klein. Point is, it doesn't matter.
    Point blank, the only white male in the film doesn't need to be there, serves no narrative purpose, and ultimately takes no actions of his own, positive or negative. His presence adds nothing, and nothing will remind us of him.
     Then there's Meg... She is the central character, and she is Phoebe. She is dragged along kicking and screaming; never saying yes, only saying no. Her only actions are beaning a girl with a basket ball, and telling her brother "I love you Charles Wallace!"

      Don't mean to interrupt myself, but this has to be dealt with NOW. His name is beyond awkward, because they ALWAYS use his full name like that. Combined with his nature as a weird little smartalek makes it seem like he's more of a charge than a little brother. If you actually love someone, and are around them enough, you tend to only use that many syllables when referring to them by name when you're mad. Otherwise, you're more likely to call them one name, use initials, a nickname, a diminutive... He should be referred to as Charles, Wallace, Charlie, Wally, Waldo, or even CW. Always calling him Charles Wallace not only seems overly formal and weird, but also wastes space on the screenplay.
      Since we're on him, I should also mention how his weirdness is just plain distracting. He up and vanishes for no reason at one point, just to reappear with no explanation. Then he is hypnotized by IT (I'd clarify it is not the killer clown, but it might as well have been actually) with a multiplication times table. That isn't a joke, he is literally hypnotized by reciting his two times table. Then he becomes the embodiment of the main villain.
       I get the idea they were going for this, upping the stakes by having the villain take over the body of a friend. Unfortunately the friend was a 6 year old hippie in a sweater-vest with all the menace and presence of a jar of cucumbers. If they had instead taken the father as the face, that would've had some impact. Admittedly it would've just looked like Kirk went power mad, but still.

        Speaking of resemblances, can you identify this person:
      If you said Oprah, then you see the problem. Mrs. Frizzle's college professor here is actually called "Mrs. Which." But she will only be seen as Oprah. Not helped by the fact it is painfully obvious during a lot of CG shots that Oprah wasn't on set with them, and was likely filmed separate. At most, I could count one scene where she could have been on set with them. You never believe in Mrs. Which. It could've been played by anyone else and it would've worked better. If it was Morgan Freeman, he would have SOLD that part, despite being Morgan Freeman. The only reason it is Oprah is because of marketing. Her acting was passable at times, but any time she tried to sound inspiring or reassuring, she just sounded like she was on her talk show, and like even she didn't believe what she was saying.

     Literal Mrs.Frizzle is also in the movie, called "Mrs. Whatsit."


     Anyway, Meg does nothing positive really. The reason why this is important is because it makes her boring. If Rocky was just about talking about the upcoming fight, not doing anything about it, and then only guarding from Apollo's hits until Apollo tuckers himself out, you'd rightfully call it boring and think that the only thing Rocky has going for him is a bunch of endurance and possibly no brain. The reason I started with an explanation about the lance in Monster Hunter is because of the oft repeated phrase in the trailers, "be a warrior."
     The film does not seem to know what a warrior is. A warrior is someone willing to take action, be brave in the face of their own fears, and live their life in a way that would allow them to enter the gates of Valhalla. Die gloriously while fighting, that is what being a warrior is. While "fighting" can be interpreted in some wide ways, including fighting diseases or for peace, it does not include hiding and pleading. There is a distinct difference between pleading, and calling out. Meg didn't win the final battle, it was Waldo. She called out for Wally to fight IT, and he did. She didn't counter IT's logic, or attack IT to release CW, she just pleaded for Charlie to come to the fore.

     Finally, the biggest flaws with the movie... being weird for the sake of being weird isn't whimsical, it is just weird. Also you cannot glide by on whimsy. Avatar wasn't the success it was just because it was beautiful; despite what the internet may have you believe, it was also because it had a good story. Also, beautiful imagery is only beautiful if we can tell where we are in a scene. more than once I got lost on where people were standing on an open field because the camera completely threw out the 180 degree rule.
     Something I also noticed was a complete lack of any interesting animals or foliage. These were alien worlds, and we didn't even seen strange birds, just some color changing flowers out of Alice in Wonderland. Your whimsy was weak!

     But, the film could be done better. I know it could, last October it got really good reviews. Of course, it went under the name IT and was written by Stephen King, but it was essentially the same plot. A group of kids fight off an extraterrestrial evil, and save their friend through the power of love. The main difference is in IT, the kids take positive actions, fighting off a bully, actively hunting the clown, trying to learn about the clown, and eventually bring it down.
    That is the crux of a Wrinkle in Time's problem. It doesn't throw the kinds of obstacles at its characters that they could take positive action against. They also don't set up love as being a possible barrier or counter to IT's evil
    The first round of fixes is to condense the characters; one weird star girl, Meg, and her brother Charlie. More screentime for each allows for more characterization, and increases their abilities to make positive actions. Second, change the obstacles to ones they can counter or combat. No tornadoes or sky squid ink... and don't make IT so easily countered by saying no. You know that one scene in Stepford? Yeah the trailers showed that scene in full. They don't attack the heroes or try to hypnotize them... they just decline some food and they go away. It should be a lot harder. The planet is essentially like the mirror world in Doctor Strange, it should FORCE the characters to fight, not just resist. The world should run off their fears, or entice their desires. Else, IT just seems like an idiot that deserves to be beaten and outsmarted by Mrs Frizzle and Oprah.
     Finally... don't have the villain physically attack Meg. Mentally attack her. make her pull a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and tell It why it is wrong, and prove her mental fortitude. Or hell, have her use her knowledge of physics (she apparently has that, not well established, I imagine scenes were cut) to cause IT to be ripped apart by teleportation, or send IT into a star. At the end of the movie, it doesn't really seem like she stopped IT, just that it was shaken off.
     Basically, the characters need a way to create an actual impact on the plot, good or ill.

     So that's my writing type of the day! Make sure your characters can actually do things and not just be led by the nose like cattle!

Saturday, February 24, 2018


     Online, there is a site called 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!