Take a look at the About video below:
And then watch the first PreWatch Thoughts on Wonder Woman:
And don’t forget to subscribe!
Take a look at the About video below:
And then watch the first PreWatch Thoughts on Wonder Woman:
And don’t forget to subscribe!
I’ve got a formal education in creative writing. That means I was given techniques, criterion, and rules by which to write. This included how to form beautiful and interesting yet clear sentences, character development, story arc, setting description, and a boatload of things not to do. Don’t say it was all a dream. Don’t kill the main character off at the end of the story. Don’t write in baroque style. Don’t write about violence or death. Now it was okay to break grammar rules as long as it was done on purpose, but the majority of the rules were about what you could write and these always grated with me. So I’ll explain why at a certain point a writer needs to start trusting their instincts and break any rule they’ve been told should never be done.
The Red Cape
Now, throughout all of my educational career when a teacher would tell me I couldn’t write something, I basically said “Well, screw that. I’m gonna write it.” I was like a bull and their rule was a red cape flying in my face. Don’t say it was all a dream? Allow me to present a short story wherein the realist moments only happen in dreams and the most surreal moments happen when awake. Don’t kill off the main character at the end? Allow me to present a novel wherein each chapter is close limited third about a different character wherein they die at the end. Don’t write purple prose? Allow me to present stories with poetic and baroque style. Don’t write about violence, suicide, or the so-called dregs of society? Allow me to present a story about a former child prostitute dying of AIDS. Don’t write genre fiction? Allow me to present a novel about a woman who lives forever, a short story about a woman who flies, a graphic novel about two supernatural beings/superheroes, a romance novel, and so on. Don’t show sex? Ho, ho, ho! Telling me I can’t do something as a writer is the surest way to make me do it to try to prove you wrong. My teachers often let me get away with it because what I gave them didn’t lack in technique or criteria of writing. It was my point to do the best at it I could, so as to show that these rules weren’t hard and fast. They didn’t prevent the work from being good. Maybe it meant a writer had to work harder at it, but I don’t think so.
Realism vs Magic Realism
“It was all a dream” is possibly the most cliche sentence in the English language, so yes, it is probably best to avoid this sentence in writing. That doesn’t mean, however, that writing dream sequences or whole narratives in dream is a bad thing. Watch Waking Life if you don’t believe me. There is always a way to go about this, and it usually involves the use of Magic Realist techniques. Treating dreams as reality only makes sense. We dream. It is a subject we should write about. Realism, to me, often means dry writing. Writing without spark or real interest, usually because it is combined with other rules, such as a lack of dark subjects, poetic language, or unrealistic elements of any kind. This is what all of my teachers wanted us to write; as such, there were a lot of stories about characters going to a funeral, planning a funeral, the journey to see a family member die, a marriage that wasn’t quite working out. Most of these never showed death and the characters when faced with making hard decisions often chose stasis over change for the better. That’s all very real. Most people are like that. But they started to blend together for me. The stories that stick out from those classes were the stories that weren’t very real such as the couple who had an octopus for a baby. The reality of realism fiction is that we’ve read basically all of those stories and they have to be done so well as to stick out that our minds are blown away. Dream sequences, houses that are spiteful, the finding of a baby hand in the living room, the questioning of what is real and what isn’t are new ways to tell the same ideas. Is it a hook? Of course it is, but at least it is entertaining as well as interesting.
Chekhov and the Dead Character
At one point, one of my teachers brought up an essay by a writer wherein every time she gave a rule to her students, she would then read a Chekhov story that broke that rule. If you don’t know this one, it is called “Learning from Chekhov” and it’s by Francine Prose. Now according to everyone who knows anything about literature, Chekhov is a giant of writing. Apparently. Once when writing my novel about the girls who all kill themselves (called When the Lights Flicker Out), said same teacher tried to tell me I couldn’t kill off the characters at the end. I rebutted, Chekhov did it, and she said something along the lines of I’m not Chekhov. Now this feels like a backhanded compliment meant to be a put down. I am not a fan of Chekhov’s writing. I’ve never felt he was very good. The subtext everyone claims is there feels like major digging to me and he has characters do exposition dumps in his plays. So to me, not being Chekhov is a good thing. I’m smart enough to know, however, that said teacher thought of Chekhov as not just a good writer, but a great writer. Yeah, I’m not Chekhov. I’m good with that. I’m Alex Miceli. I write the stories Alex Miceli would write, not the stories Anton Chekhov would write. Creative writing is completely subjective. I wouldn’t try to ape even a writer I did like. But the idea behind the statement that “You’re not Chekhov” isn’t that you’ll write like Chekhov; it’s that you aren’t as good as Chekhov or that you haven’t earned the right to do what Chekhov has done. Well, you and every other writer won’t be better unless you try and you aren’t trying much if you aren’t pushing yourself to do hard things. Basically, you can’t know if you’re good enough to have your character die at the end until you try and then try harder.
Sensationalism/Sentimentalism vs Dark Subjects
I understand why sometimes teachers want their writing students to shy away from dark subjects such a violence, rape, murder, suicide, and other nasty business, which is all a part of life too. A good amount of writers can’t do justice to those subjects and it comes from an inability to prevent their prose from becoming sensationalist or sentimental. Neither of which is good writing. However, that doesn’t mean these subjects can’t be written about without becoming sensationalist or sentimental and can even be written with some dignity and gentleness. It’s harder, obviously, but it also doesn’t mean that again writers shouldn’t try and try harder to write about these subjects. Part of the problem, though, is that sometimes critics and teachers associate these subjects so much with bad writing that they don’t judge the piece in front of them but their past experiences with the bad writing. They also may find these subjects just too uncomfortable to read about. That’s fine, but they should acknowledge that sensation and separate it from their thoughts on the work critically. Art that makes a person uncomfortable because it forces them to face the worst parts of life is a good thing. Art shouldn’t shy away from these subjects but, yes, they must be treated delicately, which means with prose that doesn’t make it a sideshow freak or a tearjerker.
Purple Prose vs Baroque/Poetic Style
Purple Prose is hard to describe. Examples of it can be pointed out easily, such as much of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the best way I have to explain it is to say that emphasis is overstated and adjectives and adverbs are overused. It is not the same as using a very baroque or poetic prose style. Baroque almost edges into purple but skates back from that edge instead of tipping over it. Most likely because while descriptive words are heavily uses, the emphasis is not overstated. Poetic style is similar but more closely follows the techniques of poetry than of prose. Figurative language is heavily used and sound is a factor in the configuring of sentences. While figurative language is often used in prose, the focus on sound is not typical. I prefer the language in my fiction to be more baroque or poetic because it helps create tone in the work without being overt. Purple prose is at odds with that in that it is overt. The tone is stated instead of created. While poetic style and baroque language can both use a lot of adjectives and adverbs that does not make them purple. The idea that a lot of either of these sentence parts is automatically bad is not correct. Description is important but style effects the sensation it creates in the reader. Mostly a writer needs to back off from telling the reader how to feel.
The Merit of the Genre Fictions
Early in my writing education, a teacher said that a writer, much like a woman, couldn’t be a wife and whore at the same time. Putting aside the very erroneous idea that matrimonial love and exclusivity are one in the same, I’ve already written my disagreements on this subject. The idea that all of the work that has ever existed in genre fiction is without merit simply by being genre fiction always puts me off. It is a kind of prejudice. I don’t believe that any medium can be judged by the sub-type it happens to be. This includes music, film, TV, and poetry in addition to fiction. I won’t say all rap is bad simply because it is rap. I won’t say all horror movies are bad simply because they are horror movies. A person is allowed to not like a specific genre. But a personal preference is not the same as prejudging all of the content of the genre as being without merit as an artistic endeavor. We still have things to learn from genre work. We can still discover ideas and amazement in genre work. Of any medium. Stephen King, who for the longest time was simply considered a horror fiction writer, is now being taught in classrooms as a technically adapt and thematically interesting writer. Does that mean that all his work is worthwhile? Of course not, he writes two thousand words a day. No one keeps up that much momentum without having bad days. But Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is taught in classrooms and has been for years, but for being published in serial, it suffers from serious structurual issues and could have done with several more edits. And until the middle of writing that book, he was a genre writer, focusing solely on adventure novels. A bit of these genre roots can be seen in his epic novel, but his best work is actually the short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener“, which showed that he had the ability to write beautiful and thought-provoking narratives that weren’t long-winded or structurally unsound. Melville could have been pigeonholed because of his past genre work, but we didn’t do that to him, and no writer or work of fiction should be prejudged based who wrote it or to what genre it may belong. Writers are not in stasis and neither are their skills. They may surprise you.
When Can You Break the “Rules”?
I understand the idea that when first learning writers should focus on structure, technique, character development, the well crafted sentence, and so on, instead of trying the harder stuff. However, I believe critics and teachers should trust writers’ instincts more as well. Perhaps they have already mastered those things and are ready for the harder stuff. Perhaps forcing them to write content they don’t care about will make their craft suffer. As Flannery O’Connor said the writer will write the kind of stories they want to read. A person has to care about what they are working on to give it their all. She and I may have been very different in our beliefs and styles, but I’ve never agreed with another writer more. I certainly believe that grad students should be encouraged to break the rules and experiment. That is definitely the time in which the student has proven that they are capable at their craft and need to be challenged. It is better that they face challenges in their work with some guidance, instead of waiting until they are out from under the thumb of academics. And if a writer decides to strike out on their own without any academic guidance, then more than ever they need to trust their instincts. All that being said, every writer, no matter what level of skill or education, has to trust in the work to guide them to the proper places and ignore rules if the work requires them to be broken.
A couple of years ago, I watched all of the Saw movies in a row. I recently redid it when they all became available on Amazon Prime because they tend to stick in my head. It’s not the gore that gets me. It’s the writing. I believe there was a reason these movies were some of the most financially successful horror movies of all time, and I believe that the reason is the writing. Spoilers for the Saw films and, strangely, Speed. I talk about the most recent one, but don’t spoil it. Before you read this, I highly suggest you watch all of the original seven. And Speed. That’s a good movie if you can look past that archaic title card. You can skip to the bottom of the Saw sections to see my ratings for each; however, I spoil previous movies in talking about next movies, so hopping around is not suggested.
My first semester of college I took a writing class wherein I was introduced to the Major Dramatic Question by a playwright by the name of Evan Smith using a movie I knew quite well: Speed. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen that movie, but the answer is surely more than seems necessary for an action romance movie. Before I get into the MDQ, let me just say, that the stunts of that movie are some of the best and most ballsy ever done. Especially for the time, considering it would have been unimaginable to have your lead actually on a mechanic creeper under a moving freaking bus (Reeves was always dedicated and crazy) or to actually jump a bus with a stunt driver inside it across a gap. Insane. And awesome. Totally unsafe. Back to the class: Smith asked us what the climax of the movie was. Most people don’t know the movie as well as I do to remember the subway train after the bus. But after the bad guy has been defeated, there’s still more movie. Jack (Reeves) can’t get Annie (Bullock) free and can’t stop the train, which means she’s probably going to die. Once that pesky business is out of the way, the movie ends with Jack and Annie kissing and a sense of completion in the audience. Because the major dramatic question of Speed is “Will the guy and girl get together?” Answer: Yes, until the sequel and Reeves is too expensive to hire again or something.
A major dramatic question is usually presented pretty early on, in the first act. Character-focused movies can have one per major character, usually best for ensemble casts, but a movie without one is very blasé. It’s a movie most people walk away from without ever wanting to watch the movie again, without being able to remember the movie very well, and without a feeling of satisfaction. Due to rewrites, poor writing, changing directorial hands, and studio interference, some movies make it to audiences without this question. I’d say that blockbusters require these more than any other film. Indie films are actually allowed to get away from the MDQ because they are sometimes instead character studies. Movies that focus on a twist can sometimes get away from this if the twist is well set up (see The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable for the best examples and none of the rest of Shyamalan’s movies–including the much enjoyable but nominally twistless Split). Most movies though need to use an MDQ and answer it to be successfully entertaining. A lot of viewers get bored without one, but for established franchises, ala Star Wars and Star Trek, people are willing to give them a pass because they are fans. I’m usually willing to give Star Trek a pass, except for the new ones, but First Contact did have an MDQ focused on Picard (Can he overcome the violation the Borg perpetrated upon him? Think about it: the movie starts with a Borg-based nightmare he’s having). Typically though I won’t watch a movie again without an MDQ because it isn’t satisfying. It’s like if you took three bites of your meal and then your waiter just whisked it away from you. It’s just unfulfilling. The number one reason I believe I enjoy the Saw movies is the fact that the majority of them have an MDQ.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t watch any of these in the movie theater. I wasn’t interested. One month a couple of years ago, the first four were available on Netflix, so I decided to watch them. Wild hair and all that. I very much enjoyed the first one. It has a rawness to it the rest don’t have mostly because it comes from new faces in Hollywood, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who happened to be given free reign and a new studio to work with, Twisted Pictures. The two were fresh out of film school and had an idea, and they even filmed a bit of it to show to studios. Their idea was picked up, but they were given very little budget. This is pretty obvious in the movie, especially when compared to the others. I’m sure a lot of the budget went to hiring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, and Dina Meyer, but even with what little they had they did a fantastic job, using CCTV footage to round out the movie and having Whannell step in for one of the parts and some shots of other characters to make sure they got everything. The rawness of this movie reminds me a great deal of The Evil Dead (the original, not that run-of-the-mill remake). Wan moved quickly when filming, managing to get all of Shawnee Smith’s scenes done in a day, while she had a fever. The bathroom scenes were filmed sequentially, which is virtually unheard of, but lends a realness to those scenes, as the griminess of their clothes and skin increase true to life the longer they are in there. Is it the best movie I’ve ever seen? No. It is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. Is the acting amazing? No. Elwes is often fighting to act through using an American accent and Whannell is unrefined. But they both do an amazing job during the dramatic climax, which is what matters most.
That scene is amazing and answers the MDQ of the movie: How far will Dr. Gordon go to save his family? Answer: Pretty freaking far! One of the reasons that scene is so good is that most of the sawing is not shown. Instead we see the start of it and then most of the shots are of the two characters’ faces as it happens. The horror and pain on their faces are enough to make the audience cringe. This is also the most graphic thing to happen in the movie. The other movies are very much torture porn but the first one is not. I also believe that it brings up a very good point. In previous games shown in the movie, the victim is only fighting to save their own life. In the main game of the first movie, he is fighting to save that of his family. Most of the previous victims were not able to save themselves, but Dr. Gordon wasn’t fighting to save himself. And while he wasn’t able to do it by the due time, he was still more successful than most of the other victims. There is an emphasis on mind games and traps in the other movies, but in the first one, Dr. Gordan and Adam must solve puzzles and riddles, not work their way out of elaborate traps. Jigsaw is still playing mind games in this one, partially by being in the room the whole time, but the mind games are rarely focused on the actual victims of his games in the later ones and instead are focused on the police as a whole and on his disciples. So it seems obvious that while the first one and a few that follow involve writing by Whannell, it is also obvious that this first movie is different, partly due to its budget constraints (notice the fact that there are almost no exterior shots) and partly due to its freshness which comes with some sophomoric qualities but produces a movie well worth watching. My score is 7/10, IMBD has a 7.7, and the Metascore is a failing 46. On an estimated budget of $1.2 million, it made $103.9 million, giving it a return rate of 8558%.
This movie was actually written by someone not connected to the first one and then the studio thought it would make a good sequel. I’m not usually a fan of this way of making movies, as I mentioned in my adaptations post in relation to Bug Hunt at Outpost 9 vs Starship Troopers (and making 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel when it was not intended to be as written makes JJ Abrams again an asshole because a viewer spends the whole time wondering how it is related to the first one and not giving the story shown their full attention), but the studio was smart enough to bring on Whannell for rewrites. He even stayed on set to make sure any changes could be made to the script and sometimes didn’t have pages for them until they were ready to shoot. Now that can lower the quality of a movie, but that’s what multiple takes and good editing are for. Overall, this one lacks the rawness of the first one, pumps up the use of traps ala the reverse bear trap, and is a tighter movie. A second watch actually makes John Kramer’s comments to Dave Matthews somewhat tongue-in-cheek in a good way. “A safe place?” Hardy-har. On a first watch, I spent a good deal of time trying to place the brunette woman (Emmanuelle Vaugier) until I just looked her up and saw that she was in one episode of Supernatural. But besides that distraction, the movie did a really good job. I did not see the twist coming, even though the first one had a twist. This early in a franchise, it’s too hard to tell what methods will be carried over to other films, so a twist wasn’t necessary at this point in creating a Saw movie. This one still wasn’t really torture porn. It wasn’t overly graphic while still being horrifying. However, the scene where Xavier cuts off his number is a bit–okay, a lot–corny. It’s just not very well edited and the whole production of it makes it out to be more horrific than the actual situation calls for. It’s far more horrifying when Dave Matthews is screaming in anger and fear in the dark bathroom. Bloody gruesomeness is less horrifying than the idea of dying slowly in the dark alone. The MDQ: Will Dave Matthews be able to restrain himself? Answer: Apparently not! I also give this one a 7/10, which has an IMDB rating of 6.6 and a Metascore of 40. With an estimated budget of $4 million and a gross of $147.7 million, it had return rate of 3592%.
Whannel wrote this one, and gore is kicked up a notch. The story is like the second one, split in two: we have the doctor working to save Kramer and Jeff going through a maze of traps. This is the first movie to have the single-person maze/journey, as Jeff is the only person running the maze, whereas in the second movie we had a big group of people. At this point, they have finally solidified how they are writing these movies. Either it is a group of people who are supposed to work together or it is one person trying to work out their issues as they solve the traps. I feel the single journey movies are stronger, because the focus is narrowed, unlike in the multiple people traps. That’s a stronger foundation, but it doesn’t mean it will be better. The idea that Jeff is so wrapped up in his anger that he is incapable of letting go of the past, moving on, and forgiving is such an interesting idea. It is also the major dramatic question, and each of the rooms are designed to test it. The parts with Lynn, Kramer, and Amanda are a little distracting to this, and this is really when the movies start to bring in their overall storyline, which they barely pulled off at times. When Amanda opens that note and starts crying, it is incredibly frustrating and distracting because we don’t get an answer to what it was about until a later movie. I felt the gore was just below the threshold of “too much”, but no other movie takes it just to the edge as this one did. The twist was actually pretty good. Jeff was too much of an idiot to be able to forgive, and it cost him a lot. The beginning of blending the movies makes this movie not as good as it could be. This one also gets 7/10 from me, has an IMDB rating of 6.2 and a Metascore of 48. It had an estimated budget of $10 million and earned $84.6 million, giving it a return rate of 746%, making it the first to drop below a thousand percent return.
This movie is similar to the one before it in that it is about a single person. All his tests are based on the same question, which is also the MDQ: Can Rigg prevent himself from running through an unsecured door? At the same time, Agent Strahm is chasing after him and is a general dick about everything. This movie is one of the most focused because they don’t show us what’s going on behind the traps, and there is an awesome reason for that! This was my favorite twist of the whole series. Not Hoffman. That was surprising but not as amazing as how much they hid the timeline. Whannell did not write this one, but what brilliant writing. They didn’t even cheat. Unfortunately, this means the movie cannot stand on its own at all. To enjoy it, a person would absolutely have to see the third movie. That and Rigg’s less than compelling character prevents this movie from being better than the others even with its tight focus and amazing twist. Again 7/10 from me, but it has an IMDB score of 5.9 and Metascore of 36. With an estimated budget of $10 million and a gross of $139.4, it has a return rate of 1294%.
This movie starts immediately after the fourth one, and it’s when the series kind of loses focus. While I enjoyed it, mostly because of Julie Benz, who is enjoyable in anything, I could see it wasn’t very good. Hoffman is a dumb character and weak antagonist and while Strahm is played by one of my favorite TV actors, he’s still just a major dick. Now the movie is pretty much all about the behind the scenes crap with Jigsaw’s disciples. The story of the five people in the trap is the most interesting part of the movie and is minor in the plot of the film. This is also where the gore is ramped up to comical levels. For all that, the movie is lesser than the others and has gone off the rails of the original intrigue and intensity. We’ve got a problem in that our MDQ isn’t the focus of the plot nor related to the main traps: Can Strahm follow instructions? Now we’re down to a 6/10 from me, and it has a comparable IMDB score of 5.8 and a Metascore of 20. The budget was estimated at $10.8 million and the movie grossed $113.9 million, resulting in a 955% return rate.
The quality drops a notch further. Again the traps and the main focus of the plot are unrelated. The real question is if the FBI and police can figure out that Hoffman is the new disciple. While the best work is done with Easton, the CEO of the insurance company that denied Kramer an experimental procedure that might save his life. It brings up important issues with health insurance and shows how mercenary and unempathic those who work in that industry can be. This is where the real writing is being done. But we have so much with Hoffman, who is just bleh. And something’s going on with Jill. Jeeze, who cares? The gore level is now outrageous and sensationalist. Not worth the time they put into it. I only give this one a 6/10, the IMDB score is a matching 6 even, and the Metascore is 30. The estimated budget was $11 million but it only grossed $27.7 million, giving it a low but profitable return of 152%, which shows that people stopped caring so much at this point.
Saw 3D: The Final Chapter
Man, if only. Again, the focus is not on the traps, which are being navigated by a false victim who wrote a book about his experiences before, during, and after as a Jigsaw survivor. There’s more about Hoffman and Jill. Oh, and look, Dr. Gordon is back. Unrelated, I wonder what the twist will be about. Obviously, I’m not a fan. We also don’t even get an MDQ, so we don’t even know what we’re waiting for. I have a problem also with the fact that Bobby doesn’t manage to save anyone, even his girlfriend, who had no idea he was a complete liar. Guilt by association is not something early Jigsaw would have done. Then there’s the 3D gimmick. Also by this point I am sick of hearing that twist music and that horrible metal music in the credits. Now, we’re at a 5/10 from me, a 5.6 from IMDB, and a 24 from the Metascore. It had an over-bloated budget of $20 million and grossed $136.2 million, giving it a return rate of 581%.
I’ve not seen this one yet, but it doesn’t involve Whannel or Wan as writers or directors, who moved on to Insidious and The Conjuring—though Wan is a producer. Instead, it is directed by the Spierig brothers, who have done Daybreakers (which I enjoyed), and written by Pete Goldfinger, most of his experience being in horror films no one has ever heard of, and Josh Stolberg, who has worked with Goldfinger on many of the same movies, but his most well known film is Good Luck Chuck, which is absolutely a completely different genre of movie. I’m not sure what to make of this combination of major players. The premise also seems off the mark from the cannon ending of the seventh film which is that Dr. Gordon and the two young men from the beginning of the movie are going to continue the games. Whereas, the description I read says that a new series of murders is taking place and it seems like it is John Kramer. Maybe since it was so bad, most people won’t remember that ending, but it was such a shock to so many viewers that I’m sure fans will remember it. Or maybe they are pulling a Bryan Singer ala Superman Returns and ignoring some of the later, and frankly worse, sequels. But look how well that turned out for him! I imagine they are just going to retcon it, especially considering I’ve not seen Jigsaw hitting Elwes’ IMDB acting credits. I’m not expecting much from this movie except to say that it will be a studio beating a dead horse. Currently it is sitting at a 5.9 from IMDB and a 39 from Metascore. The budget was a respectable $10 million and has grossed $38.1 million. This puts the return rate so far at 281%. As I said, not much hope.
Too Make a Long Blog Post Short . . .
Too Late! Horror as any genre can be done well, but like any genre of film requires focus on a singular question. Without which, the audience will not know what they are waiting for and will no longer care, shown partly by lowered return rate over the course of the series. The shine has also worn off by the sixth movie. It may have been too soon to try again. There were only seven years between the seventh and eighth films, but that could mean that the cooling off period was too short or long, in that either people were still sick of Saw films or that people no longer cared for them at all. It’s hard to tell and depending on who you talk to you might get different answers. To be honest, while I give my opinion on things, I do not much care for the aggregate opinion on most things. Critics don’t like horror films, and a lot of regular joes don’t either, thus bringing down the scores of horror films in general. But to gauge audience retention, aggregate scores are helpful. Overall, I believe the Saw movies have merit. There is often good writing being done, in that the focus is sometimes there and the themes are at the very least brought up if not exhaustively explored. Obviously, horror is capable of being thematically capable as shown by It (2017) and Stranger Things. Without focus and theme coming together, a movie of any genre is not going to be good in my book, and I will not judge a horror movie (or any other genre film) by the same expectations beyond those two metrics across genres. Which is why my scores may seem high for some of these movies. I would say that there was a reason for the outrageous success of the first film, and it wasn’t the twist, and it wasn’t the gore. It was the focus on Dr. Gordon as a character and just how far he would go to save his wife and child from that goddamn Benjamin Linus!
Now, I’m going to be making fun of Disney quite a fair bit in this post. But they aren’t the only people doing this right now. They also, however, seem to be the company doing it the most without reason considering the fact that they own the MCU and Star Wars and now also Fox and any of that IP. Now, the MCU and Star Wars are endless sequels. Technically. And the MCU movies are all really adaptations. However, they are all pretty solid movies. They are entertaining. Which is the ultimate goal of a movie or TV show. Otherwise, what did you think you were doing?
I haven’t seen all of the Disney live-action remakes. I haven’t seen Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, or Maleficent. I also don’t want to based on the ones I have seen. I have seen Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Looking Glass, and The Jungle Book. I recently watched Beauty and the Beast. Like really recently. I haven’t been impressed by any of these movies. I’ve ended up looking at my Facebook feed which is what I do when I’m bored. I’m not saying that the fairy tales and children’s stories of old Disney animated fare cannot be remade into new and interesting movies. I love Mirror Mirror, but Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsmen: Winter’s War, and The Legend of Tarzan (also recently watched) were again extremely boring and those weren’t even Disney, even though Disney has a version of Snow White and Tarzan. So I won’t be addressing Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, or Maleficent, but will be using examples from the Alice movies, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast.
Why, Just Why? Because? Money?
Disney is worth a lot of money. Like 55 billion dollars in 2016. They are one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world. They own Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Theatrical Productions, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, The Muppets Studio, Radio Disney, and Disney-ABC Television Group, and own hefty percentages of ESPN, A+E Networks, and Hula. To name some of their most recognizable subsidiaries. And they just bought Fox. That’s a lot of pots stirring and bringing in the moola. So I question the need to not take risks. Especially considering the cash that Marvel Entertainment ($676.2 million from 2008), Marvel Studios ($12 billion worldwide for MCU titles), and Lucasfilm ($1 billion estimated profit from purchase price) are all raking in. No one thinks that Disney is suffering. The evidence is in the purchases they’ve made over the years, that all produce high profits. Disney would have to be making crazy stupid decisions to be leaking money at this point. Crazy stupid decisions like financing Adam Sandler’s career. Oh, wait, that’s Sony.
So why are they rehashing old material? Why aren’t they taking risks with their live action films? Why do they plan to remake, reboot, or sequel all of their animation titles in the next decade? I’m not saying that Disney shouldn’t be making movies under the Disney brand. I’m just wondering why they’ve chosen to do nothing new or truly creative under that brand. The results of this plan are a bunch of very boring and nostalgia-driven pieces of crap that are full of bad acting, bad cinematography, bad CGI, bad dialogue, and bad story.
What’s coming to theaters from Disney soon?:
That is 14 titles to add to the six that have already come out. And bear in mind, not a single one of these was an original idea when it was adapted into a movie by Disney before. Why is this the plan? Why not try new things?
The Alice in Wonderland Films
These are horrible messes of films. I’m not sure why a sequel was made when the first one was so terrible. First of all, Alice is so bland and no one can care about this girl. She’s as bland as the people she can’t stand. She travels to Wonderland to get away from a destiny she doesn’t want, only to be told in Wonderland that she is destined to do this thing. Don’t follow your destiny unless it turns out to be incredibly dangerous! ~the motto of this movie. Also the caterpillar keeps saying that Alice isn’t Alice, which is a weird message again, as it suggests the idea that changing is inherently wrong since the last time she was there was when she was a child. Children grow up and become more mature. There is nothing actually wrong with that. In fact, it’s a good thing. If they mean that Alice losing her gumption and sense of imagination are bad thing, that’s a good message, but they don’t actually present this idea well, especially when they are all telling her that she needs to do what she is destined to do. It also suggests that the caterpillar’s idea of who Alice is is more important than who Alice believes she is, moving her identity away from her ownership and leaving it still with other people. Or caterpillars as the case may be. When she comes back from Wonderland, she talks to her crazy aunt telling her to stop believing in her own crazy stories. Why is this moment in the movie? Is it to confuse the audience? Oh, Alice’s crazy story is true, but that woman’s just suffering from mental illness. Only pretty, young women can be believed when they tell crazy stories?
This blandness and the weird messages continue into the second film, but the plot is even more convoluted. The idea that proving to the Hatter that his family is dead will somehow cure his emotional wasting sickness is freaking weird. Also he keeps saying that Alice isn’t Alice, that everyone is not quite right, which is a little bit of a callback to the caterpillar but suggests that there is something wrong with everyone in Wonderland. That’s not the case. He’s just referencing the first movie. That’s not helpful to the audience trying to figure out what they are waiting for. In fact, I have no idea what we were waiting for. This movie actually made me think that Alice and the white queen were the bad guys. Alice steals the time machine, thus endangering everyone throughout all time in Wonderland and the white queen has been lying for years mostly to herself about how good she is, having gotten her crown by lying about her sister and resulting in her sister’s injury which is still a problem for her to this day. And the part where they resolve this decades long problem is so quick and not at all satisfying.
Then there’s Johnny Depp. Ugh. If Tim Burton doesn’t finally screw Depp and get it over with so we don’t have see him do these increasingly substanceless parts in Burton films, I may never watch Depp in a film again. It seems that Depp doesn’t want to actually act anymore. All his parts are the same now. Wild and crazy look, weird compared to everyone else, and the absolute center of attention or he will burn the set to the ground. He’s in the second one less but is still annoying and eccentric. Watch his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and then watch him in Through the Looking Glass and you’ll see what I mean. He has stopped trying. He lacks all subtly and internal action. While some may say this is an unfair comparison, I say no! Robert Downey Jr. is still able to bring that into even his outrageous comedies such as Tropic Thunder. Whereas his friend Depp only looks the part. Depp: Divorce yourself from Disney. They are sucking out your lifeblood. You need to do something with some substance. The Lone Ranger, the Alice movies, the Pirates movies, and Dark Shadows (which isn’t even Disney) are all terrible movies. The first Pirates film is enjoyable, but Depp does not steal the show; he shares it with Bloom, Knightly, and Rush, who all do a great job. But later films are all just about Depp doing crazy things on camera. That’s all that really happens in the films listed above, and I find those movies boring, no matter how much action they also throw into the pot. In fact, I didn’t even finish The Lone Ranger. Having Depp behave and look weird isn’t enough to carry a movie. It wasn’t what made Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas amazing. It was all the Rum Diaries tried to do. Depp isn’t a bad actor, but he hasn’t produced the kind of performance that truly deserves an audience’s attention in quite a while.
So the second film. What can truly be said of this mess? I can’t quite describe when the movie went astray, possibly when it turned out they were going to do basically the same character development as the first one all over again. Alice is back in England and people are trying to make her life as bland as her personality is again. But no! She’s a ship’s captain. Whatever. The movie was not at all helped by the time traveling plot or Sacha Baron Cohen. I like this guy. I watched him from his early HBO days, and he was great as King Julian in Madagascar, quite possibly the most quotable character of that movie. Problem is, a character like King Julian can’t carry an adversary role in a feature length film, and since he wasn’t really the bad guy, he didn’t really have a place in the movie. Children’s movies do need to be direct with plot and character dynamics. This movie doesn’t do that at all. It is half-way between the dynamics of a serious drama (the main character is screwing everything up in a monumental way) and a children’s film (cooky characters without real motivation). It’s just too hard to get behind something that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s called focus. How can the audience focus if the movie can’t?
Beauty and the Beast
I love the 1991 Beauty and the Beast. It got a Best Picture nomination. The first animated film of all time to do so. That’s a big breakthrough. It’s got its problems, such as the fact that the prince was only eleven when the enchantress cursed him or that she cursed all of the castle inhabitants just because they happened to be employed there. You know, so they could feed and clothe themselves along with their families. But it has a great charm. The songs are amazing. I could watch the Gaston song five times in a row and I’ll still laugh every time he says he uses antlers in all of his decorating, throwing that leg up in the air. I love this movie. It’s not my favorite animated film of all time, but it is certainly in my top ten.
So I can’t be accused of not liking the remake because I don’t like the material. I can be accused of liking the original too much to enjoy a remake; however, there are very clear reasons why I don’t like the remake. Again, it is boring. There isn’t enough new in this movie to create a feeling of discovery in an audience. They changed very little: the prince was shown to be an adult at the time of cursing, they tried to justify the cursing of the staff of the castle, and they added a song. That’s about it. Oh, yeah, they added a magic book. The change that the prince was an adult was a good one, but the second change is still a crap reason for cursing everyone. Oh, they didn’t stop him from becoming a monster so that’s why they deserved it. You mean, in a time when a nobleman could conceivably ruin a person’s life to the point of them begging for alms and dying in the mud, the staff could have done something? Suuuuure. I seriously doubt that they had much control over what kind of man the prince became. I didn’t see his childhood nurse among the staff nor any of his tutors. In fact, none of them would have had much direct interaction with the prince based on their positions except to take and fulfill any orders beyond their traditional duties. So there really is not reason why they should be held responsible. Also, the cursing of Chip throws a major wrench in that theory as a child surely is not responsible. It’s still dumb. In fact, it’s dumber for them trying to fix it.
On the other changes, they weren’t all that enticing to me. The song is good and Dan Stevens does a good job, but overall, the majority of the songs pale in comparison to the original performances, mostly because the original was made in a era when Disney insisted on hiring good voice actors and good singers that weren’t necessarily the same person, doubling up the voices behind many of the parts. This means most of the original singers were just that: professional singers, not actors. This go round, that’s not the case. The actors shown are the people singing, and most of them don’t compare to the professionals of the original.
The final change, the book, I pretty much forgot about since it made very little impression on me. I believe, it was a device to further develop Belle as a character and explain why she was so different from the other villagers. It seemed overall a bit too clunky to achieve much of anything which is probably why I almost didn’t remember to include it here.
Oh, there was one final change. The gay character. If you could call a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment much in the way of a “character” feature. They made such a big deal about this. It was in all the press and internet discussions leading up to the release of the movie and I can only assume that it was to drum up interest in what was essentially an uninteresting remake. Making it as minor as possible in the actual film suggests that Disney wanted to be able to point it out, but also wanted it to be as unassuming as possible as to be unoffensive to those family movie-goers who are homophobic. Basically, they were trying to have their cake and eat it too. I hope we’re smarter than that kind of ploy in the future.
The Jungle Book
What a strange movie. Not many people remember the original. It is very old at this point, but I’m sure any of us could sing The Bare Necessities if given a few notes of the melody. We can all thank Screen Junkies for reminding us what this movie was like since Disney locks that crap down harder than Fort Knox in their stupid vault. When babies are born every year, I’m still surprised at the use of that brilliant concept. I had to look it up, but that crap is still going on. Genius. I’ve read some of Kipling, and his anithropomorphic animals are strange, so the remake managed to capture a lot more of that than the original did. This movie did go in new directions. Even interesting ones. It was almost ironic in the end. I appreciated that quite a bit, but there were some issues with this movie.
First of all, the only real thing through out most of the film was Mowglie. This always bothers me. At that point, all I can think is just make the whole thing animated. It’s not like the brilliantly shot Dinosaur wherein the locations were all real but the animals were CGI. No, most of the actual environment of The Jungle Book was CGI. I’m more impressed by the effects of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which still amaze me to this day. Making nearly everything CGI felt like a cop out. It’s now cheaper to render entire environments than it is to film on location. That’s fine. Then just make the whole thing CGI. I’ll watch a realistic CGI animated film. I have no problem with that. What’s the problem with Mowglie being the only real thing throughout the majority of the movie? It makes it harder to suspend disbelief when you have a very real boy touching not just CGI panthers, bears, and wolves, but also touching CGI leaves and rocks. Now had everything been CGI or just the animals, it would have seemed either more like a cartoon or more like reality. Instead it was stuck in this halfway place, much like the Star Wars prequels. So often throughout the movie, I couldn’t help but think that in the real, real world and not CGI world, Mowglie would be the deadest child in the world.
They left only two of the songs in the movie. The two everyone knows and had two men who can’t really sing perform them. It was jarring to hear those two beloved songs mangled as they were. Don’t get me wrong. I love Bill Murray and Christopher Walken, but neither of them is famous for their singing ability. Murray is a funny actor, who can bring great depth to his face. He’s not a singer. Walken can be terrifying or hilarious, sometimes even both, and is an amazing dancer. He’s also not a singer. We would have been able to tell very clearly had they decided to use singers for the songs instead of the two actors, so maybe they should have just cut them altogether. John Favreau was really trying to tell a more realistic story and frankly closer adaptation of the original Kipling material, so these moments were nothing but sore thumbs and I would love a version of this movie without them.
Overall this movie evoked a kind of meh response in me. It could have been better, but it could also been worse. It was mediocre at best. Right now, that seems like a not bad place to be as a movie, since there are so many horrible movies coming out, and making loads and loads of money for some strange reason. This movie wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been, mostly because those two songs slowed down the progress of the plot, and it didn’t really grab me because of the weird choice of using nearly all CGI. That’s about it.
Why make all these movies? Why try weird sequels to one, a nearly exact remake of another, and a nearly full reboot of another? There are other stories to tell and other ways to tell the stories that Disney has animated in the past. As I said, Mirror Mirror was very enjoyable and original. The telling was completely different and charming. It even had great art direction. So it is not impossible to do something new or exciting with the material. I think the big difference here is that while the writers and director of Mirror Mirror cared about the project because they had an idea of what they wanted and had little to no interference from their studio, Disney is the driving force behind many of these movies. They are scraping their barrel of IPs and asking someone to do something with each one. It’s easier. It has little risk. But there is a lack of care in the projects shown in lackluster films such as Beauty and the Beast because the director and writers were given a paint by numbers film plan. Or the studio butts in on what could be a good film and tells them to do certain things, like have songs that don’t fit the tone of the film being made. Or they just own Johnny Depp’s soul and think he is still profitable. If Disney just wants to have someone to create a film based on each of their IPs, they should let writers and directors who have clear and personal ideas about each IP hold the reigns and not butt in. They would make much more solid and enjoyable films, instead of passable to horrible movies that no one should even waste their time on.