Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Why am I so critical?

My wife hates going to movies with me. Why? Because once the credits roll and she inevitably asks if I liked it, nine out of ten times I reply no. On top of that I respond with 20+ areas where they went wrong, most of which revolves around the script structure. "You don't like ANYTHING," she says. Not true. It's that I LOVE movies that I'm so critical. I know what they CAN be. I feel like I'm showing up at Benihana's and they're handing me a Hoss' filet. Either they've got to make a better steak or I've got to realize I keep accidentally walking into Hoss'.

I like movies so intensely that I am frustrated by their general lack of quality and creativity. I expect more than they consistently offer. And considering the millions of dollars and hundreds of talented and well paid people behind them, is that expectation out of line? Everyone dislikes bad movies. I dislike mediocre movies.

There's a misconception that film critics and filmmakers don't like anything but old movies. Also not true. It's not that old movies were better, it's just that over the decades the good ones have remained while those mediocre ones have disappeared. You may have liked Scream or The Waterboy, but in 2030 it will be forgotten. The Lord of the Rings won't. When Casablanca was on screens I'm sure it was surrounded by mediocrity too.

The common movie goer defense is, "Well, it was entertaining." Sure, seeing Superman stop a plane from crashing is entertaining. Watching the tripod aliens blow up cars around Tom Cruise is entertaining. But I don't watch movies to just be entertained, comedies being the exception. I have video games and a puppy to do that. I don't pay ten dollars to be entertained for an hour and a half. I go to the movies to be affected, changed. To have questions asked. To face situations I have, haven't, can't, or won't face in my own life.

After any movie where I generally am the only person who disliked the movie I am constantly asked what I was looking for. What was it lacking. There were good actors, there were good scenes, it was funny, the effects were great, etc. What were you looking for? It's incredibly simple. Beyond all the actors, scenes, effects, etc., I want a well told story. Every great film is a story well told. How is a story told well? Here is my opinion, backed by a history of successful films. I write this just so those of you reading this get a better understanding of the reviews I make on here and the films I hope to write.

Ask yourself if your favorite films follow this model. I will also use Captain Blasto in my examples just to illustrate how I try to write, not to compare it to great films.

The film illustrates how the main character typically lives their life. Luke is a down and out farmboy. Rocky is a hitman. Rick is a shady nightclub owner in a seedy little African town. Colin goes unnoticed.

Something happens throwing the characters life out of the normal, either in a positive or negative way. Luke buys R2D2 and C3PO. Rocky gets the call to fight Apollo Creed. Ilsa walks into Rick's Cafe. Colin is scared into doing something by Daryl.

The character seeks to find a solution, reach their goal, obtain the prize. They are opposed by a series of obstacles. Luke and crew are taken into the Death Star and must escape with the Princess and the plans. Rocky trains, opposed by his own feeling of worthlessness. Rick arranges a flight for himself and Ilsa to America behind the backs of her husband, Maj. Strasser, and Capt. Renault. Colin stages robberies as his hero Captain Blasto continually having to avoid both detection and police.

The obstacles change the character, preparing them for their final obstacle. Luke goes from farmboy to fighter pilot. Rocky swaps his lonely life for a relationship with Adrien. Rick begins to shed his selfish ways as he returns to his relationship with Ilsa. Colin, braver and more, becomes noticed as his fictional counterpart.

Equipped with everything they've learned throughout the question, the character faces one final obstacle with everything on the line. Luke flies down the Death Star trench pursued by Darth Vader. Rocky fights Apollo Creed. Rick holds Capt. Renault at gunpoint. Colin stands up to Evan.

The hero either succeeds or fails in their quest. Luke blows up the Death Star. Rocky loses to Apollo but learns his self worth. Rick gives up his tickets for Ilsa and Victor Laszlo. Colin slams Evan.

The total quest changes the character for good. Luke becomes the hero. Rocky becomes a national underdog "champion." Rick is back in the fight. The classroom falls quiet as Colin enters.

The total quest raises a question in our own lives. Would you be willing to jump into a righteous fight if great odds were against you? Would you be able to step out of you hum drum life to attempt something great? Would you sacrifice your own well being for someone you love? Have you sacrificed your dreams for the boring responsiblity of life?

What movies follow this besides the ones I've mentioned? Raiders of the Lost Ark, It's a Wonderful Life, Chinatown, Bridge on the River Kwai, Wizard of Oz, The Incredibles, Gladiator, Braveheart, and Jaws to name a few more.

Now, will something like Superman Returns stand up to the decades? Unlikely. Why? What did Superman want? We don't know. What was opposing him from reaching his goal? Nothing. There was conflict, yes, but none of it related to anything other than watching him do neat stuff. How did Superman change as a result of his quest? He didn't. What was the point of watching the movie then? To see Superman do neat stuff. Three hundred and fifty million dollars and twenty eight years later just to see Superman do...neat stuff? Sorry I expect a bit more.

Superman Returns

Is it good? Moderately, yes. There's enough throwbacks to the original films to make me smile. The "rescuing the plane" scene is good. We get to see Superman use all of his power several times. They have a GREAT shot of Superman holding a car above his head in tribute to the cover of Action Comics #1, his first appearance. The effects are quality and CG isn't overused. And yes, Brandon Routh makes a decent Superman and an even better Clark Kent. (Christopher Reeve still retains his title as the definitive Superman/Clark Kent, but Routh never had a chance of stealing that.)

I went into the film hoping it would be amazing. And it started off strong. Great opening text. INCREDIBLE opening credits. Great music. I really felt like I was about to see a GREAT Superman movie. By 3/4 of the way through I realized that wasn't he case. If the credits opened my mind to an A+ movie, the rest of the story worked it down to a C. And keep in mind my love of Superman covers a multitude of sins. Had this been any other superhero that rating would have been much lower.

It had good characters, good actors, good sets, good scenes, and good direction. With all of that why wasn't it a great film? I honestly could sit here and type a 10 page essay on the film, but nobody will read it. In short I'll say it's story structure is an absolute mess. Characters do not have clear goals or desires and do not change as a result of obtaining or missing them. It was a tribute to a great character and a great film, written by either untrained or untalented writers. If you're actually intrested in reading what I believe to be the most accurate review of the film, check here:

Ebert's review has some good points although it's a bit harsh:

It's worth the price of admission. It's really enjoyable and entertaining. Worth buying on DVD as a Superman fan. But if you're like me and want to see a GREAT Superman film. It's already been around for 28 years now.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Pirates Owners Box

Yep, THE owners box. Kevin Mclatchey's owners box. Add it right next to Mann's Theater on the list of places Blasto has taken a bunch of Munhall-ians. Every game I've ever seen has been from the nosebleed $6 seats with peanuts all over the floor. Special thanks for the Williams' for bringing us along with them. And you have NOT heard gospel until you've heard Deniece belt it out.