Tag Archives: movies

Two films looming huge on my horizon, I mean, HUGE!….

Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy—

I mean, holy frack, just this little peek left me alternately giggling and gibbering with delight.  If all else fails, I have at least one reason to live until May next year.

On a completely different note–

This movie wasn’t even on my radar until I spotted its trailer on IMDB.  Oh, my God, what a grim looking tale, perhaps worse, on a personal scale,than the imagined alternate future in Days of Future Past.  Here’s the premise from Wikipedia

Set in 2024, Logan and Professor Charles Xavier must cope with the loss of the X-Men at the hands of a corporation led by Nathaniel Essex. With Logan’s healing abilities slowly fading and Xavier’s Alzheimer’s hampering his memory, Logan must defeat Essex with the help of a young girl named Laura Kinney, a female clone of Wolverine.

There could be some weeping involved here.  Just saying.  Oh, and whoever put this trailer to Johnny Cash’s Hurt— genius.

According to the Wikipedia article this should be Hugh Jackman’s last outing as Wolverine, not surprising as he’s been playing the character for about fifteen years.  Not sure anybody can take over after Jackman, but then I said the same thing about the Joker after Heath Ledger, and then Jared Leto came along.

All the same, it looks as if Marvel/Disney is ringing down the curtain on this incarnation of the X-Men, and Wolverine.  An era is passing.  I have no idea what comes after this, particularly as there are so many different alternate versions of the team in the comics, and, of course, Disney has shown it is not bound by previously established canon with the new Star Wars movies.  However, at the very least, they have my attention.



Five awesome movie scenes

My personal taste in film runs largely, although not exclusively, to the epic and the heroic, with largely dollops of the tragic and the sort of romance in which true loves die happy because they’re together. After I see films like Les Miserables they generally have to carry me out on a stretcher (it’s not just the film, of course– the stage production does the same thing to me, and I’ve seen it live three times. My daughter finds it soo embarrassing that her father has to bring a full box of kleenex with him to the theater).

Individual movie scenes that kill me with epicness have certain common attributes– a desperate struggle against long odds, someone you want to see succeed (or at least survive) and the ticking clock of looming disaster. Usually for maximum effect you need some really effective music. For extra points, throw in children in jeopardy.

Here’s five scenes from five very different films I find really riveting. NOTE: inevitably each of these scenes involve spoilers. Be warned.

1. From the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, the opening scene in which James Kirk’s father sacrifices himself to save his wife and soon-to-be-born son–

This is a wonderfully effective scene, scoring high because it’s basically a father defending his family and sacrificing himself to save them.  Does me in every time.

2. From Captain America: The First Avenger, here is the climactic scene where Cap (Chris Evans) has to intentionally crash the Hydra flying wing into the Arctic ice-cap to save New York City, while talking on the radio with his true love, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Cap must not only sacrifice his own life in this scene, but also his chance for happiness with Peggy, which brings a poignancy to the interchange between them, and which has continued to resonant through the subsequent Captain America and Avenger films.

3. From the 1993 film Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s downhill bayonet charge at Little Round Top, which by itself just might have saved the Union–

Whether Chamberlain actually saved the Union is a matter of debate, but he knew his position was vital (the utter left flank of the Union Army), and he and his men held the position with incredible courage and endurance.

4. From the 1964 film Zulu, the famous ‘Men of Harlech’ scene–

Unfortunately, unlike Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s charge at Little Round Top, this scene never happened, at least as far the singing is concerned.  But the film captures the spirit of the true story of a tiny force who held off an overwhelming enemy through grit and good tactics.

5. From Return of the Jedi— a fan edit/compilation of the climactic confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader, with the Emperor egging them on. Most particularly, watch the section from 3:17 to 3:53 and listen to the soundtrack .  Those thirty-six seconds have more tragic drama in them than many movies have in their entire running time.

The interesting aspect of this scene is that Luke is trying to save not only Anakin Skywalker from the dark side, but also his sister, and, ultimately, himself– and, in the end, he does it by not fighting.  A nice twist on the classic climactic confrontation between the hero and the villain.

Each of these scenes contain attributes I hope my own writing at least occasionally captures.  I like stories and films in which something genuine is at stake, and the protagonists have to give of themselves to protect or rescue it.  In one way or another, I’m not sure why you would make a movie that did not have this sort of tension at its core, but they get made (e.g., in my biased opinion, American Hustle).  But I try not to dwell on such creations– there are plenty of films out there that spark my imagination and touch my heart.  I focus on them.



Three upcoming movies that have my attention

Now that we’re past the hysteria and hoopla around Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I thought I would share some thoughts on three upcoming movies that have grabbed my attention.  In no particular order–

Suicide Squad

Okay, I am at least interested–

Harley Quinn and Deadshot and the Joker (in what may be an even more freakish interpretation, by Jared Leto, than Heath Ledger’s) all in one film– and with Batman (Ben Affleck), too.  It looks like a full house of crazies.

Of course, it is entirely possible that for me Bohemian Rhapsody and Freddie Mercury are affecting my emotional reaction to this trailer.  You could put Bohemian Rhapsody on a video of a dripping faucet and I’d watch it.

Interestingly, the Comic-con trailer for this same movie has a completely different feel, taking a much more serious and dramatic– maybe even tragic– tone.  The producers might want to figure out their marketing approach to this product.  Remember what happened to John Carter.  Just saying.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

If this film maintains the serious tone of Man of Steel, it will hit the ground– or the screen– with an excellent head-start, as far as I’m concerned.  That approach was one of the best things about Man of Steel, lifting me up and over some irritating flaws in the story logic.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Justice League, but the trio of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman is intrinsically interesting.  I will be interested in seeing how the film handles the initial conflict between Superman and Batman (rather a traditional element in their respective origin stories) and how their friendship then grows to form the League’s foundation.  And, I have to admit, Wonder Woman’s reveal in this trailer is pretty fun.

Captain America: Civil War

Of these three movies, this is the one I am the most jazzed about.  I have become a serious fan of Captain America as portrayed by Chris Evans in Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers movies.  The whole series of interconnected films that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a creative stroke of genius, in my biased opinion, the brainchild of fans in positions of power, such as Kevin Feige (and now DC is playing serious catch-up with Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad).  It is a great storytelling gimmick and should pay dividends for Marvel and Disney for years to come, even if the quality of the individual films varies (Age of Ultron, for example).

I was never a great fan of Captain America in the comics (for years I was obsessed with the X-Men), but Chris Evans’ portrayal of Cap as a decent regular guy who acquires extraordinary powers and then must cope with being displaced in time is one of the best and most consistent character arcs in the whole MCU.  As long as Evans plays the role I will be watching with interest.

On the flip-side, there are upcoming movies that are not particularly on my must-see list–

X-Men: Apocalypse– Despite my deep and long-lasting affection for the X-Men, I’ve found the last several movies disappointing, despite the presence of great actors like Jennifer Lawrence.  After Days of Future Past apparently rebooted the series I have some hope, but I’m going to approach Apocalypse with caution.

Deadpool– hmm…no.  Not a fan, despite the presence of certain X-Men.  Sorry. (Oh, and the trailer’s kinda gory, fyi).

Warcraft– really uncertain about this one, and rather severely disappointed by the look of the trailer.  The live action and the CGI characters do not look as if they were matched up very well. I’ve been waiting for a World of Warcraft movie, and now that it’s here it looks…kinda lame, actually.  Dang.

Gods of Egypt– please.  Overwrought CGI and some sort of battle of the gods that looks like a cheap video-game. No, thank you.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows– oh, hell no.





Movies that inspire me– “Stagecoach”

This weekend I re-watched John Ford’s 1939 film, Stagecoach

I grew up on Westerns, both TV shows and movies. This isn’t really surprising in a household proud of its Western roots (and with a father who thought John Wayne was the bee’s-knees). If we went to the drive-in (five kids and two adults in a Ford Falcon), odds were we were there to see a Western. My earliest imaginary friend was an invisible horse inspired by Roy Roger’s Trigger (yes, I was a lonely child).

As with most over-exposure, inevitably a reaction set in– in my teen years I turned more and more toward sci-fi and fantasy for my dream-fulfillment, and less to Westerns. I had seen too many Westerns– more than that, I had seen too many bad Westerns. Hollywood, in its history, has produced thousands upon thousands of Western films and TV episodes, many of them mediocre at best, some of them positively dreadful. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, it seemed as if every other show on TV was a Western. This massive over-production peaked just before a mood of severe historical revisionism set in in the late Sixties, in which the mythology of the West was questioned and overturned, resulting in films like Little Big Man and Buffalo Bill and the Indians. If you make a Western nowadays, you have to make it with very different premises than a film from the Thirties or Forties.

Having said that, I have long known that Western tropes and themes are deeply buried in my psyche– and that they strongly inform my writing, in whatever the genre. In particular, my fantasy writing has far more of a Western sensibility than sword and sorcery or high fantasy– there’s far, far more of Shane or Josey Wales in my character Mankin than there is of Aragorn.

In my possibly jaundiced view, there are a mere handful of really great Western movies– Shane, The Searchers, possibly the 1969 True Grit (but, unfortunately, not the 2010 version), and a few others. One of those others is Stagecoach.

(DANGER: huge and hairy spoilers lurk below)

The film is definitely a product of its time, and it rings all the typical changes you would expect from a Thirties Western– gunfights, hookers with hearts-of-gold, perfidious Native Americans looking to massacre white folk, the inevitable rescue of said white folk by the cavalry at the last moment, as well as a dose or two of racism. Within that framework, though, John Ford created a timeless film that constitutes nothing less than an advanced primer on how to tell a story.

Based on a short story, “Stage to Lordsburg”, the film has a motley crew of characters boarding an eastbound stagecoach in one dusty town in Arizona to go to another dusty town in New Mexico. There’s a prostitute being run out of town by the local morality league, a drunken sawbones in the same boat, the snooty, aristocratic young wife of a US Cavalry officer looking to join her husband, a pompous banker, a whiskey drummer, and a card-sharping gunslinger. Before the stage departs, the local marshal learns from the stage driver that Luke Plummer is in Lordsburg, the stage’s destination. The marshal has been hunting the Ringo Kid, a local man whose father and brother were murdered by Plummer and his brothers, and who was sent to prison on the Plummers’ perjured testimony. Ringo has escaped, though, and the marshal realizes that he will be headed to Lordsburg for revenge. The marshal joins the stagecoach as a guard, intending to arrest Ringo.

Just before the stage leaves, a cavalry officer informs the passengers that the Apaches under Geronimo are on the warpath, and that they will have a cavalry escort– but, as it turns out, only part of the way. On the first leg of the trip, the stage is stopped by Ringo (John Wayne), who is, indeed, trying to get to Lordsburg. The marshal places him under a sort of loose arrest, and the stage resumes its journey.

Most or all of the characters in the coach, in one way or another, have agendas, or secrets– the banker is actually absconding with a payroll, the officer’s wife is stubbornly insistent on joining her husband, despite the fact that she is about to give birth, the gunslinger joins the party out of a Southern sense of chivalry, intending to protect the officer’s wife (while giving off serious sexual vibes toward her), Dallas (the prostitute) wants to keep her employment history from Ringo, who has taken an immediate shine to her, and Ringo just wants to get to Lordsburg to take care of the Plummer boys. The mix of characters and agendas keeps the story rolling (no pun intended), with plenty of both conflict and humor in the coach, quite apart from the overarching danger that they may all be massacred by the Apaches. These people squabble and argue and display the full range of human courage and stupidity under stress. At different points they make the decision to keep going, despite the danger, always because of their own agendas.

At each stage of the journey, Ford ratchets up the hovering danger– the next expected cavalry escort is a no-show, the officer’s wife goes into labor and the doctor has to redeem himself by delivering the baby and saving the mother, war smoke-signals are seen, the next stage station is a burned out wreck with its operators massacred. The stage is floated across a deep river, whereupon everybody thinks they’re in the clear– until the whiskey salesman takes an arrow in the chest and one of the greatest action scenes ever filmed takes off, as the Apaches chase the stage. Not until the passengers are out of ammunition and all looks lost– the gunslinger is prevented from shooting the officer’s wife, to keep her from being captured, only when he himself is shot– does the cavalry show up and save the day.

In most films this is where we would get the end-credits, but there is still the unfinished business between Ringo and the Plummers, not to mention the unfinished business between Ringo and Dallas. As the stage pulls into Lordsburg, the word gets to the Plummers that Ringo is in town. At this point the film very nearly reverts to a silent picture– there is almost as much acting with faces and body language as with words, as the Plummers gather and contemplate facing Ringo (summary: they’re scared out of their boots). The silence and the faces remind me, personally, of Kurosawa. Ringo wins the gunfight, and he and Dallas escape (with the marshal’s connivance) to a better life.

One of the tremendous things about the film is how Ford created the smaller conflicts that snarl and tangle among the passengers as they try to escape the greater danger. If this were a film simply about a stagecoach being chased by Indians it would very quickly grow boring. Instead we quickly get invested in these people, even the ones who aren’t particularly likable. It is perhaps the mark of a genius that, despite being largely cliches we’ve seen before, none of the characters seem dull. Certainly the 1966 remake did not replicate the magic of this film, despite the presence of Ann-Margaret.

It absolutely does not hurt that the acting is all first-class, and the cinematography is nothing short of epic. Altogether the mix produces a piece of world-class cinema.

Here I want to note a detail regarding the background of the movie that says something about the artifice that story-telling sometimes requires. The climatic chase has been criticized for unrealism– spoil-sports have pointed out that all the Apaches had to do was shoot the lead horse of the coach’s team, and the coach would have come to a very sudden halt. When someone suggested that to John Ford, the director is famously reported to have said, “Then you wouldn’t have a story!” Sometimes suspension of disbelief must be stretched to cover such points– however, the great strength of the scene, as Ford shot it, is that you’re generally too busy hanging on to the edge of your seat to worry about details like why the lead horse isn’t dead yet.

Ever-increasing danger…characters you root for…action that conveys a sense of immediacy and realism, whether or not it actually is realistic… these are essential story-telling elements all too many movies ignore, or handle in a formulaic manner. When a filmmaker gets it right, though, you get pure gold.