Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 King of the Hill - June Madness

Battle Royale
So far, I have watched nine movies this month.  In order:  How to Marry a Millionaire, Brother's Grimm, Burlesque, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman, Iron Lady, Salt, Brave, and In Time.  Nine movies is a LOT of ground to cover and in order to make this faster, I'm going to lighting round four match-ups of two or three movies and drop the list down to four movies to compare.  Those final four will get a more in depth review.  This also means that after this post, I will finally be caught up on blog posts.  [Applause]

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

Match 1: How to Marry a Millionaire v Brother's Grimm
In other words: Marilyn Monroe versus a pile of dog crap.  Winner:  How to Marry a Millionaire

Match 2: Burlesque v Prometheus
The one good actor could not save Burlesque.  Winner: Prometheus

Match 3: Snow White and the Huntsman v Iron Lady
There was so much bad with Snow White and the Huntsman, I almost posted a rant.   Winner:  Iron Lady

Match 4: Salt v Brave v In Time
Salt easily obliterates In Time in story and acting.  Despite the fact I saw a portion of Salt being filmed, Brave defeats Salt without question.  Winner:  Brave

Four movies remain:  How to Marry a Millionaire, Prometheus, Iron Lady, and Brave.

Match 5:  How to Marry a Millionaire v Prometheus
How to Marry a Millionaire is a comedy production of three ladies trying to find success by getting married to a millionaire.  Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall rent an expensive apartment for one year and survive by selling off the room's possessions while they attempt to locate and snag millionaires.  The movie in many ways resembles a Shakespearean comedy and is highly entertaining.  If one thins is certain, Monroe films stand the test of time.

Prometheus is an action packed flick, set before the events of the classic movie Alien.  It focuses heavily on philosophy and leaves the audience with nearly as many questions at the end as the audience had at the start of the film.  The movie was fascinating, the actions was interesting, and the plot was somewhat entertaining.  The movie however left a lot to be desired.

Winner:  How to Marry a Millionaire

Match 6:  Iron Lady and Brave
Do yourself a favor and rent Iron Lady.  Meryl Streep does a phenomenal job in this movie depicting the life of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  The movie is a bit disjointed as elderly Margaret Thatcher remembers bits and pieces of her her life as she adjusts to her growing mental health issues.  The story unveils the trials the Iron Lady went through to get her start in politics and hold herself in power.  It is a good film and I greatly enjoyed watching it.

And then there is Brave.  Brave is Pixar's latest film about a Scottish princess who is facing a forced marriage between the first born from one of three clans.  Merida has other things in mind for herself and tries to change her fate against the wishes of her mother, Elinor.  The movie is absolute, positively, fucking amazing.  The story is both unpredictable and formulaic.  I was able to make some predictions as to where the movie would go, but I did not see it all coming.  Remaining completely spoiler free, this movie tackles what it means to be Brave on MULTIPLE levels and brings to the box office one of the strongest female characters I have ever seen.  While Merida can shoot a bow at the same level of Katniss of The Hunger Games, it is not that part of herself that makes her strong.  Go see this immediately.

Winner: Brave

Match 7:  How to Marry a Millionaire v Brave
How to Marry a Millionaire is a good film and has proven that it can stand the test of time.  It has three characters all very unique and interesting.  And here comes the "but" you are undoubtedly expecting... But, How to Marry a Millionaire has nothing on the movie Brave.  Brave is a surprisingly very strong film that I think deserves the chance to try and win out for the movie of the year.  Will it?  I honestly don't know, but we are about to find out if it can do the job.

Ultimate Winner:  Brave

Ultimate Loser:  Brother's Grimm.  Holy crap that movie sucked ass.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

2012 King of the Hill - May Catch-Up Post

The Avengers Stands Alone
Normally, for the King of the Hill Challenge, I would compare two movies together to see how they stand up. The only problem with this is that in May, I only watched The Avengers. The movie wins, no debate here, but just declaring it a win, isn't really much of a blog post. So, I'm going to weigh in on the movie by talking about the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. And there WILL be spoilers of the very ending of the film, sorry.

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

The Good
There was a lot of Good in this movie. The story was great. The acting was excellent. The dialogue was witty and fun. The fight scenes were spectacular. It is really hard to pick out and focus on the good, because there was a lot of good to go along. It was a movie that I actually went and saw twice, in the theater, something that is rare for me to do. So yeah, it had a lot of good qualities. But, it wasn't a perfect movie either and I'll discuss that next. Just know that I liked this film.

The Bad
There isn't too much that was bad about this film. My first time watching the film, I actually had little complaints. The second time I watched it, I wasn't as entertained. Most of what made this movie good was either the action sequences, or this witty, humorous moments that aren't quite as good the second time around. Also, the selective ignorance was a bit more apparent on the second watching.

The biggest example I have of this is in the initial appearance of Loki. Loki appears through the Tesseract with this epic helmet and spear. Orders are shouted for him to put down the spear. Loki begins attacking. Loki pins Hawkeye against a wall and speaks his first line. Hawkeye reacts, but not in the way I would expect. If an alien appeared in front of me, began attacking anyone and then spoke to me, I'd be surprised that he spoke English. Yet, we find that that the idea that the Hulk could have a consciousness is unfathomable.  The movie picks and chooses what it wishes to gloss over.  There are other examples, but for me, this was the most obvious.

The Ugly
The Avengers is a movie about a team of super heroes. There is one scene, however, that really upsets me. On the flying aircraft carrier, the ship is attacked and Black Widow and Bruce Banner fall to another level. Bruce begins to change into The Hulk and the reaction of Black Widow is one of complete horror. This reaction was unsettling and it didn't get better at any point in time during the second watching of the movie.

The movie at no point in time holds back the threats. There are a lot of deaths. An entire base is destroyed in the opening. There is a threat of the world being invaded by aliens that seem to be willing to kill everything. Yet, despite all of this, one character demonstrates true horror. Black Widow, the only female Avenger. Not Tony Stark when he's piloting the nuclear missile to what he believes will be his death. Not Thor when he is trapped in a cage plunging to what Loki ponders might cause his death. Not Captain America, broken and battered as the aliens overwhelm the streets. Not, Hawkeye when he reaches his last couple of arrows. Only Black Widow experiences that fear. And I find it completely and totally unnecessary. Instead of her fighting for her freedom, as a determined hero, she is caught with panic. And, when she escapes, she goes fetal for a time. And that just really damaged the movie for me in a bad way.

Winner: The Avengers (duh)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Complications of the Bechdel Test in Writing

The Bechdel Test can best be described as a litmus test that is applied to movies to evaluate the role or presence of women in the film.  To pass the test, the movie must have two female, named characters, that speak to each other during the film about any subject other than men.  It is a striking simple test, and yet a vast majority of films fail to meet it.

In literature, you don't have screen time and the rules should be somewhat different.  In theory, with writing, it should be easier to have the Bechdel Test requirements met.  Yet, I've found that depending on the factors behind your story, this can be surprisingly difficult to pass, despite the fact that the number and significance of the female characters in the story exceed the number of males.

In Extrication, the story is told first person through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy.  He has several female characters that he interacts with, three of which are a significant part of his life.  He has his mother, the neighbor, Gail Rosenberg, and his long distance friend, Claire.  Also, being a thirteen year old boy, he is attending school during the day with countless kids his age of both genders.  So, with all of these female characters, it should be easy to have the Bechdel Test passed, right?  Wrong.

One of the problems with writing, is that every scene should carry with it a purpose.  Having an abundance of female characters in the story makes it possible to have two of them interact.  But, they need to interact in such a way to advance the story.  In the case of Extrication, the story is about a young boy finding that he has an extraordinary power.  This greatly limits the options available for two female characters talking to advance the story.

Fortunately, in my bag of tricks, I was able to find a way to work this out.  Part of telling a story is setting the scene of the world.  One way to learn about the world is with conversations between characters.  If the piece of information is important to the reader, but not something your character would necessarily talk about, you have a perfect opportunity.  You can have your character overhear two characters discuss this in front of your protagonist.

If you have a piece of writing that does not meet the Bechdel test, you should look closely and ask yourself why doesn't it.  Adding in a scene where two students talk about an important piece of world news isn't a major change.  You can also look at your existing scenes where a group of characters are holding a conversation and see if you can switch around who's talking to whom to make the story pass the Bechdel test.  This small bit of effort takes nothing away from the story and makes the book just that much more accessible in a world where Bechdel tests are needed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Movie Ketchup Time (April)

I'm behind on my blog and I'm sorry for the two/three of you out there that check this blog on a regular basis.  I'm also currently dealing with the heaviest bout of depression I have ever experienced in my life.  Still, I feel that when dealing with depression, the best solution is to try and force yourself to do something anyway.  So, for now, while I have the energy, I'm going to start clearing out my projects I'm super behind on.  To start off, let's talk about the King of the Hill Movie Challenge.

For those who do not know, the 2012 King of the Hill Movie Challenge is my system for determining the best movie of year that I saw. One movie from each month will be selected and, at the end of the year, I will do a tournament style showdown where they will take each other on until the final movie has been selected. Bracket placement will be determined by the number of movies the monthly movie faced and won.

April was not a busy movie month.  I only watched two films during the month Titanic and The Little Princess.  If there was another movie I watched, it was not significant enough to implant itself in my mind.    So today, I have two movies to pit against each other.  Titanic, the extremely popular, massively grossing film by James Cameron.  And The Little Princess (1995 version), an underdog remake of a Shirley Temple film.  For me, the decision was easy, but I don't expect this decision to be quickly accepted by my readers.

Titanic is two movies rolled into one.  It is the disaster movie of the famous voyage of the RMS Titanic.  It is also a "romance" movie.  The romance story follows two characters Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet).  They are two people from different worlds on a voyage to America.  The two meet under the most unusual of circumstances and quickly fall in love with each other.  The disaster story follows the RMS Titanic (CGI) as it crashes into an ice berg (CGI) and begins to sink into the murky depths (either CGI or a giant kiddie pool).

It is the story of the sinking of the Titanic that made this movie great.  The romance had decent moments, but was more of a detraction than anything else.  For one thing, Titanic has some of the worst dialogue I have ever seen in a movie.  The most irritating is how often Jack and Kate use the other's name.  This is not natural dialogue and if you don't believe me, record yourself for a day and see how often you say someone else's name when talking to them.

The Little Princess is a movie directed by Alfonso CuarĂ³n that follows Sara (Liesel Matthews) as she attends an American boarding school while her father, a British factory owner is fighting in World War I.  Her life is comfortable and filled with all of the amenities until her father is reported as having been killed and that the British government has seized his assets.  Suddenly, Sara is without a penny to her name and thrust into working as a servant girl along side Becky (Vanessa Lee Chester).

The Little Princess is clearly aimed for young girls, but the story is a whimsical tale that can entertain a wider audience.  It has moments that are over the top, such as a scene when the neighbor's aid, Ram (Errol Sitahal), fills the attic with exotic foods and fabric for Becky and Sara.  Despite these over the top moments, the movie gives a very realistic look into boarding schools during the early 1900's.  The dialogue makes Titanic look like a Saturday morning cartoon, and it was a better, overall period piece.

April King of the Hill Movie Winner:  The Little Princess

And if you case you were wondering, the March King of the Hill Movie Winner is The Hunger Games