Friday, July 24, 2015

"Spy" - the importance of being an underdog.

Last week I managed to see the movie 'Spy' that stars Melissa McCarthy. I had heard good things about the film, so I thought that there's no way that I would be disappointed. At the very least, I would be mildly entertained by it.

One of the reasons that I had good vibes about the movie is because it was obvious that Melissa McCarthy's character was going to be likable. Looking like that (the picture above), very few would think that she's a totally awful and unrelatable character.

I also looked forward to watching  the movie because Melissa McCarthy is a talented actress. She's one of the very few current actors in the business who has the chops to be both dramatic and funny when it's required. She's a true comedienne, if you ask me.

Nevertheless, in 'Spy' McCarthy plays a desk agent who's work consists of helping 'real' agents on their dangerous missions. She's an overweight, overworking, underappreciated single woman, without whom things would fall apart at the agency. 

Based on those qualities, it's hard not to like her. She doesn't complain, she doesn't act like a bitch, she doesn't constantly drop f-bombs everywhere and she doesn't think she's better than others. She's pretty much the perfect character.

In any case, the film gets going (inciting incident) when the agency's best spy - her partner and her crush - dies.  She sees the death through the agent's body-cam - which makes the moment genuinely heartbreaking. Now she's even more of a relatable character.

Right after that it turns out that the agent's killer has the list of all the field agents and that the agency needs some fresh blood quickly. Naturally she feels that its her job to step up to the plate. Nobody else could be hired on a short notice like that. 

This is when the movie is at its best. Seeing how she is prepared for her role and when some others in the agency are doubting her. It's good stuff when she bonds with her female side-kick desk worker (another underdog in the film).

Then she's assigned for her first ever on-location job in Europe - nothing that is supposed to be too difficult for her. She's only allowed to track the bad guy and not to engage in anything more than that. She's not qualified to be a 'real' agent.

This is relatable stuff, but it gets even better when she manages to save the life of a gung-ho agent (Jason Statham) who thinks that McCarthy's agent is nothing more than a hindrance. This is when I was thinking about recommending this movie to all my friends.

Unfortunately, what happens shortly after is when things start to go wrong with the movie. For some reason - I think we had reached the 45-50 minute mark - the writers thought that our underdog hero didn't have to be a likable underdog anymore.

So what happens next is that McCarthy's personality pretty much does a whole 180° turn. Instead of being a person that you were able to root for, her character becomes a motor mouthed killer machine (!)  that can't stop dropping f-bombs.

This was such an awful turn for the movie. That is that for the rest of the movie, the original premise of the film is pretty much dropped and all we get is action, contrived situations and more foul language that doesn't make sense.

This was something that I did not expect to happen at all. Why did they do that? Considering that the movie was so highly rated by most of the critics and that it was directed by Paul Feig (Freaks & Geeks), I couldn't believe my eyes.

What was so wrong with the character being inherently likable? What was wrong with someone being an underdog? What were the writers of the movie thinking? I suppose they just ran out of good ideas or something.

The fact that the film as a whole turned out to be a disappointment is so unfortunate. That is especially because the first half of the movie was really well made. It made you feel for the characters and it had a good amount of funny moments too.

At the same time, the second half is what sinks it. The writers forgot what made the characters likable. They ran out of creativity and took the easy way out. It's a shame, because 'Spy' had the ingredients to be a good film, but it just isn't one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pixar's 'Inside Out' - better than I thought it would be.

When I saw the trailer for Pixar's 'Inside Out' for the first time, I was pretty sure that it couldn't be any good. My gut instincts told me that the concept of the movie was just too complex and that the film would likely be a pretty big mess.

I mean, the idea that we had emotions as characters inside animated characters didn't seem plausible or interesting at all. I felt that it was a relatively childish idea and that Pixar had run out of ideas. My hopes for the film were not high at all.

Nevertheless, I saw the movie a couple of days ago and it turned out that 'Inside Out' was better than I thought it would be. Even though - in my opinion - it's not one of Pixar's best animations, it's still rather watchable as a whole.

For starters, there's no denying that in just about every imaginable way, 'Inside Out' looks and sounds really good. The characters look wonderful and the voice acting, as usual, is top notch in the film too. One couldn't ask for much more.

I was also pleasantly surprised when it came to the storyline (in general) and the themes in the film. I thought it was a pretty good decision to try to make the movie as simplistic as possible. Otherwise I don't think the movie would have worked at all.

In any case, the film is about an eleven year old girl who moves with her family from a cold Midwest state to a warm California. It's about how her five basic emotions inside her react to the changes in her living environment.

It's hard to make a story any simpler than that, which is why every story moment in the film's script has to be extremely well thought out. Every crucial moment in the script has to make sense or else the movie doesn't work as well as it should.

Pixar apparently took their task really seriously. They took it so seriously that they reportedly had close to twenty writers working on the script. They knew that this would perhaps be their most ambitious screenplay, so they tried their best.

Yet, if you have seen the movie, it's pretty obvious that they weren't able to fix all the problems they had with the screenplay. There are certain mistakes in the movie that will keep me from thinking that 'Inside Out' is a great film.

Probably the biggest weakness in 'Inside Out' has to do with its 'inciting incident'. This crucial moment is not only way too weak, but it also comes out of nowhere and isn't plausible. The writers weren't able to sync what happened outside and inside, which is a huge problem.

The other big flaw in the movie is how they used exposition. It's difficult to think that using a voice-over was the only way to introduce us to those 'core memories' and different islands that memories were made of. That was just way too much for us to digest.

These are some of the reasons why some people couldn't get into the film. It made it look confusing and made it look like the characters weren't relatable or interesting. It made the movie look like it was a boring educational video instead of entertainment.

But if one was able to get past these problems that were in the film's first act, I think the movie was able to reward the viewer. There's some genuinely good stuff about how we emotionally grow as human beings - which felt pretty important and touching too.

As a whole I have to say that watching 'Inside Out' was a rather weird experience. That is that it's obvious that the producers and the writers of the film tried really hard and that some really talented people were involved with making the film what it is.

At the same time, the flaws in the movie are pretty obvious too. In many ways I can't help but to think that they should have worked on the script more. In my opinion 'Inside Out' could and should have been better than it turned out to be.

Friday, July 10, 2015

I have tried to watch 'Game of Thrones'.

For me it's pretty difficult to write negatively about a show that almost everybody - critics and the general public - seems to like. Instead, I'd like to rave about it and write how well made and how entertaining and full of substance it is.

In this case we're talking about 'Game of Thrones', a series that I started watching a couple of weeks ago. For some reason I had waited for years before I finally took the first step and decided to check how good it was.

Unfortunately, I haven't enjoyed 'Game of Thrones'. In many ways the show has been a big disappointment. As a writer, it's been disheartening to see that the series isn't well written. When it comes to its scripts, Game of Thrones has been genuinely lacking.

One of the biggest problems I have had with the series has to do with its characters. I haven't been able to relate to them on the show. Pretty much all of them are one dimensional and don't seem to have qualities that would make you care.

Not only are the characters relatively bland, there are too many of them. At least when it comes to me, it has been really difficult to pay attention to what's going on. It seems that there's no focus on any of the characters. They can't all be equally important.

It's also doesn't help that even though the show is supposed to be a fantasy, it's not about good vs. evil. On the contrary, Game of Thrones looks like it's a show about bad people and really bad people. It's hard to relate to that kind of stuff.

When it comes to drama, there doesn't seem to be much, because everything is so fragmented. That's one of the reasons why there's really no tension on the show. There's no build up to anything, so things just seem to happen - if they happen.

Furthermore, I have found Game of Thrones to be too violent. In almost all cases it seems that the show is violent just for the sake of being violent. There doesn't seem to be any purpose behind any of it. It as if they're trying to distract us from those other flaws.

The same in my opinion applies to the nudity on the show. There's plenty of naked women in just about every episode. Even though I certainly prefer nudity over violence, I don't think that makes the show any better either.

All these flaws are especially disappointing when you consider those other positive aspects of the show. That is that the production values are pretty high and there's a lot of heavy-weight acting talent involved with the show too.

Yet, it's not enough  - at least for me  - that Game of Thrones looks good. It's not just about the production values that matter. As unfortunate as it is, the show really fails when it comes to its characters and its storylines.

As a whole, Game of Thrones could have been a pretty good show, but I don't think it really is. There are simply too many flaws that keep me from enjoying the series. It's just not my cup of tea, even though it probably should be.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Some reasons why I like tv more than movies.

["Don't you ever, EVER talk that way about television again" - Homer Simpson (I married Marge, S3E12)]

So even though I do have a problem with most television shows, I still like watching tv much more than I like watching movies. Here are some of the reasons why - at least in my opinion - you should like television more than you should like movies:

1. Watching tv shows in most cases is free.

One of the biggest reasons why I like tv is because watching it is pretty much free. I don't have to buy a ticket before I get to watch the latest episode of South Park or the latest episode of Modern Family for example.

Now, It is true that in order to be able to watch these shows live, in most cases you have to watch commercials. Yet, at least in my opinion - and let's be clear that I'm not a fan of commercials - that's still a relatively small price to pay.

I mean, even though networks are for profit corporations, it almost feels as if they in many cases are working for us. Very rarely have I thought that these guys are thinking about the bottom line  (even though they are). They give us stuff for free after all!

2. Television is much more down to earth.

One of the reasons why television feels so cozy and comfortable is that every season your favorite series is going to air multiple episodes. You might even get 24 episodes per season, which means that you'll see a new episode roughly every two weeks.

On the other hand, when it comes to films, it takes usually at least 2-3 years before you'll see the next installment in the series. That is of course if the film in question is successful enough at the box office to warrant a sequel.

For me it's so much about connecting with the series in question. It becomes almost an every day thingy and part of the weekly routine. Checking the boards, writing about the show and stuff  - waiting for the next episode to air.

3. Television shows are more likely to be good.

It's not a secret that the longer than the script is, the harder it is to keep the audience interested. It's almost impossible to write a movie script that is even remotely good. Unfortunately, almost none of the movies that are released are worth your time.

The reason that it's so difficult to write movies is that in most cases you have to start from scratch. You have to create new characters and you have to come up with a 120 minute story that doesn't feel completely manufactured.

On the other hand, when it comes to television, you're dealing with either 21 min or 42 minute episodes that have characters that we are already familiar with. It makes the whole thing so much easier and potentially so much more enjoyable.

4. Television writers have more control over the product.

As a writer I'm much more interested in being a television writer because when it comes to tv, writers and showrunners have more power over the final product. In many cases they are artistically in charge of the product that is going to air.

Television is a great place for prolific writers like David Kelley and Aaron Sorkin who can churn out scripts every three days. If they know what they're doing, there's a good chance that the audience is going to enjoy the stuff that is going to air.

When it comes to movies, writers don't have that much control over the product. This is mostly because movie scripts are that difficult to write. If the first draft isn't great, there will be multiple rewrites by multiple writers and the movie will likely suck big time.

5. Best television shows win the awards that they deserve.

Finally, when it comes to television and Emmy awards, usually critics know which shows are going to win. As usual, Modern Family will likely receive the top prize and it's going to win it relatively deservedly. The right shows seem to win much more consistently.

On the other hand, when it comes to the Academy Awards, this isn't really the case. Nowadays anything can happen every year. Even jingoistic pro-war movies like The Hurt Lucker and Argo have managed to win the top prize.

As unfortunate as it is - with winners like these movies - Oscars are becoming more and more irrelevant every passing year. It's a shame and I don't see that things are going to get any better in the near future.