Monday, November 7, 2016

A Lifelong DC Comics Fan Ranks the 14 Marvel Cinematic Universe Films


In my little review of Doctor Strange today, I referred to it landing in the middle of the pack in terms of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, it seemed only fair that I put together an actual list ranking all 14 MCU films. This is a rare instance where I'll go from best to worst, so let's kick it off with...


1. Guardians of the Galaxy 
No MCU film has been as much fun from beginning to end.

2. Captain America: Civil War 
Winter Soldier MIGHT be a better film, but the best superhero fight scene of all time wins the day.

3. Iron Man 
Gotta give props to the one that started it all, from the excellence of casting to elevating a lower-tiered superhero into the upper echelon.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
Re-imagining a superhero film as a Seventies conspiracy thriller and then getting Redford to appear — genius.



5. The Avengers
Sure, there’s some sizable flaws and ball drops in the film, but seeing the first culmination of what Disney/Marvel had been aiming for was a true thrill. Plus: “puny god”.


6. Captain America: The First Avenger
A good old fashioned rip roaring WWII film that managed to pull off a character that could have come across as pure cornball cheese.

7. Ant-Man
The only challenger to GotG as far as bringing the funny — which is little surprise with Rudd as the star. Plus, the most troubled film behind the scenes turns out to be pretty damn good after all. No "small" feat!

8. Doctor Strange
Cumberbatch continues a line of perfectly cast MCU heroes, just ends up being a little too lightweight for such a heavy character.

9. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
It was nice they gave Hawkeye something to do this time around, but the whole enterprise felt weighed down from beginning to end — as if decisions were made in a boardroom rather than in Whedon’s mind.

10. Thor
Props for even trying to do a film about the God of Thunder, and Hemsworth is a good fit for the role. And Loki remains the best MCU villain to date... 

But a lot of the execution feels limited in scope and range for what should have been a much bigger undertaking, not to mention an Asgard that looks as though it was designed by Donald Trump.











11. Iron Man 2 / Iron Man 3 (tie)
Anything remotely commendable in IM2 is undone by the painfully embarrassing drunk Iron Man scene, which is on-par for sheer cringe-inducing awfulness with the insipid Emo-Spider-Man in SM3. Speaking of wasted, if you get Sam Rockwell to be in your film, that's what you don't do -- waste him!

As for IM3 — as much as people disliked the borderline offensive Ben Kingsley/Mandarin BS the film tries to get away with, I was far more annoyed by Guy Pearce's Killian having an origin that is beat-for-beat a bizarre imitation of how Jim Carrey becomes the Riddler in Batman Forever. Say what?


12. The Incredible Hulk
The biggest sin of all: an utterly forgettable film. The not-so Jolly Green Giant has been one of the best parts of both Avengers films, and signs look promising for his sizable role in the upcoming Thor flick, but I’ve seen video game commercials more memorable than this heaping pile of meh.

13. Thor: The Dark World
But…this one is a far bigger head-scratcher. After two previous film appearances, both Thor and Loki were so well established, well defined and well liked — this should have been easy money, and a vast improvement on the first wobbly effort. Instead, it’s a big loud dud. From meh to bleah...

DOCTOR STRANGE: My Spoiler-Free Quickie Review


Dazzling visuals aside, DOCTOR STRANGE is a superhero origin story that is not only cut from the same cloth as movies like BATMAN BEGINS and IRON MAN, you can actually see the seams where they stitched in elements from both flicks. But also like those two franchise-launching films, what might have been rote is elevated by a strong cast. Sure, Benedict Cumberbatch may want to take a stab at a leading role that isn’t about a misunderstood, misanthropic and (of course) egocentric genius — but damned if he doesn’t pull it off every single time.

Although similar in formulaic structure to the aforementioned BB & IM, DS doesn’t do quite as good a job balancing the origins of the main character with the ultimate threat he must face to “save the day/world”. Perhaps fearful of a second act sag, the script has Strange go from novice to master of the mystic arts a little too fast, which is epitomized a key scene at the Sanctum Santorum in New York City. It’s still quite enjoyable, but they were really cutting to the chase far faster than a more fleshed out film should have.

In addition to the somewhat rushed nature of the script (which still feels more fully baked than other of this this year’s DC entries, if I’m being honest), there are attempts to lighten the story and characters sprinkled throughout the film. Some jokes land but others feel forced, as if concerns over the mostly humorless BATMAN v SUPERMAN from their rivals over at DC/Warner Brothers meant they needed to make damn sure smiles were being cracked here. No specific line or gag made me groan, so I wasn’t that put off with the attempt. After all, not every joke line in DIE HARD makes me laugh either. In either case - be it well crafted or not, the humor doesn’t negatively impact the overall tone of the film. And ultimately there IS something satisfyingly funny about how Strange ultimately DOES “save the world”.

I would also give the movie high marks for those dazzling visuals I mentioned at the top — the trippy nature of Strange plummeting through cosmic vortexes and mystical realms is far more “out there” than anything I’ve seen in any film of this genre so far. As for the INCEPTION conceits — yeah, there’s no denying that, but I’d also point out that both are tips of the hat to the works of MC Escher — done to great effect any number of times throughout the movie. This might be the one time I wouldn't have minded seeing the 3D conversion version (can one say “conversion version” — I’m not sure, but I just did).

Overall, I’d probably put the film a notch below ANT-MAN. It’s not as funny (which therefore reduces the fun), but you do get better antagonists (even in the typical limited scope of an MCU villain, I will always have a ball watching Mads Mikkelsen work), and I am very intrigued to see Stephen Strange appear in future Marvel films. There’s been 14 MCU films so far — I’d say this one lands almost exactly in the middle of the pack.

PS: Doctor Strange's cape is an actual fucking character unto itself — how crazy cool is that?

Friday, August 5, 2016

SUICIDE SQUAD - My Immediate Reactions Coalescing Into an Actual Spoiler-Free Review

When I talk about films and television, I often point out that “it’s all about the characters, stupid.” And if there’s a place where SUICIDE SQUAD truly shines, it’s with the characters. The film has to introduce a myriad of villains — who are actually going to be the heroes we’ll be rooting for in the forthcoming mission. Now, obviously there's been a number of movies in that vein over the past 50 years, from THE DIRTY DOZEN all the way to OCEAN'S ELEVEN — but it’s still just a twee bit different here, plus throwing in one big “known to the masses in previous incarnations” monkey wrench like the Joker makes it that much harder a feat to accomplish.

And on that basis, the movie mostly succeeds. Will Smith may not be the Deadshot comic enthusiasts envisioned or even wanted. Guess what? He pulls off a richly nuanced performance in the film, never losing sight of being “a bad guy” while still being human. Frankly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this take on Floyd Lawton — it's most I’ve liked the not-so-Fresh Prince in quite some time.

Viola Davis really nails the part of Amanda Waller, a.k.a. the bizarro version of Nick Fury. I knew she was the "doesn’t take shit from no one" type from the ads — but trust me, there's a point in the film when she's clearly worse than any of her forced recruits.

Jai Courtney’s an actor I’m only familiar with by reputation. As I understand it, his reputation sucks. So I was delighted by how much fun and vitality he brings to his moments on screen as Captain Boomerang. Jay Hernandez’s Diablo is incredibly strong and probably the most sympathetic Squad member, and A-A-A’s Killer Croc deserves far more screen time to really sink his teeth into such a monstrously tasty role. 

And then there’s Harley Quinn and the Joker. 




Let me clarify a few things right now: 

(1) My main exposure to Harley Quinn comes from her appearances on the Batman animated series. I have a faint memory of her subsequent comic book appearances, but my HQ background is more cartoon-based (the inkwell from which she sprung).

(2) Although I was taken aback when I saw the first stills of Jared Leto as the Joker — due to all those tattoos and the dental grillwork — I was also accepting of it after that initial shock. Yes, his look was WAY different than Ledger’s in THE DARK KNIGHT — but I hastened to point out just how very different Ledger was from Nicholson in BATMAN. As long as David Ayer (the writer & director) and Leto kept the mischievously murderous spirit of the Joker intact, I was eager to see what they would pull off.

First, there’s Harley. Margot Robbie really dives in and goes for it with this role. Fans upset by her non-jester look *micro spoiler* there’s a little bone thrown to you. Is HQ hyper-sexualized? Maybe. Is she more a prop or an object? No. She knows exactly what she’s doing — even if in many ways, she’s the most broken character in the entire film. There’s a certain amount of tragedy with a few Squad members in the film, but that’s more tied to how they came to be incarcerated. Harley’s tragedy is her origin and the ongoing dangerous obsessive love for the Joker. 

I can’t say how Harley Quinn fans will react. Quite frankly, it will depend on what version they're more familiar with, as I've heard that later HQ stories were more empowering and less devoted to her abusive relationship to Mistah J. But the backstory I saw in SUICIDE SQUAD was mostly in line with my HQ knowledge.

Shifting from Harley Quinn to the Homicidal Harlequin of Horror — Leto’s Joker is undeniably spellbinding. I can’t help but wonder how electrifying he would be as the main antagonist in a later Batman film. Also, I think most movie audiences are so accustomed to seeing the Joker take over any flick he’s in (as Ledger and Nicholson did), that it's mildly jarring to see such a villain confined to a smaller supporting role in SS, even if it’s a memorable one. So it's unfair to compare Leto to either Ledger or Nicholson, as they both had far more screen time for their turns as the Joker.

For the most part, all the characters sizzle and crackle like frying bacon. And the set-up — the formation of Task Force X (the Suicide Squad) is handled with considerable flair and panache, from the villain introductions all the way to the eventual suiting up for action. 


BUT…

Where SUICIDE SQUAD fumbles is with the actual plot — the menace that brings these bad guys together to do a good thing. There’s nothing remotely interesting about the threat, and some aspects feel like visual carbon paper of the third act of every other superhero movie good and bad over the past ten years. Trust me, you’ll be all “Hey, that reminds me of THE AVENGERS…and MAN OF STEEL…and FANTASTIC FOUR…and—“ That’s the point when you realize you’ve seen this same dopey third act end-of-the-world cosmic light show over and over again.

Sadly, superhero films, action films, horror films...they’re often only as good as the villain. Bond movies with great villains are eternal. Bond movies with less than memorable villains? By definition, they’re forgettable. That rule applies whether the hero is Harry Potter or Harry Callahan — there’s just no getting around that. 


SUICIDE SQUAD buys itself an additional thimble-full of credit because the protagonists are villains. But as underscored in this film, there's a big difference between bad guys and villains, and that credit is quickly converted to a demerit. Why? Because it should've been clear to David Ayer that the actual villain HAS TO BE HORRIFYING EVIL AND JAW-DROPPINGLY CRAP-YOUR-PANTS WE'RE SCREWED SCARY. 

Someone or something memorable, with clear motivations and intent, that should induce as much post-movie conversation as any cool scene or funny line or favorite protagonist.

Here, eh. Not so much.

And that’s a HUGE problem — I can’t help but dream about how incredible this movie COULD have been if the antagonist sparked our interest, wonder and imagination the way most of the crew of colorful convicts do. 

Something original, something clever...
Something different.

Now, I can overlook some of the smaller flaws in the film, such as:

(1) The overuse of pop music in the first half is a misguided attempt to differentiate SS from either MAN OF STEEL or BATMAN v SUPERMAN. Except — that’s pretty evident from the get-go, so stacking all these tracks one right after the other is complete overkill (and in the case of an admittedly great but overplayed White Stripes song, kinda steps on the humorous impact of one scene). Just because I might have all these songs in my iTunes, doesn't mean I need to hear them all during my moviegoing experience...

(2) Maybe there are just a few too many characters running around in SS. As a result, while some have plenty of room to develop and impact the audience, others feel as if they were tossed in to fill out a cast promo shot (like Katana and Slipknot, not to mention any and all the army personnel under Rick Flag’s command, including Scott Eastwood). Personally, I wouldn’t have minded more time with the likes of Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc.

(3) Some clunky dialogue is TOO on-the-nose; a few jokes land with a solid THUD. Even gags that were amusing in the trailer -- for whatever reason don’t quite work in the context or pacing of the film. There’s also at least one scene in the trailer that didn’t make the final cut.

If only SUICIDE SQUAD had been handled the right way...this should have been DC’s answer to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Instead, while it’s certainly far more enjoyable than BATMAN V SUPERMAN, I’m still left waiting to see a DCEU film that doesn’t require hedging and explaining and the usual comic book fan apologist routines that were on display after both MAN OF STEEL (which I actually liked despite some flaws) and BATMAN V SUPERMAN (the Ultimate Edition was an improvement). 

You're up next, WONDER WOMAN.


Those were my “immediate reaction” thoughts to SUICIDE SQUAD. While I’m gratified that a film of this nature does a good job with a number of characters, I wish they were given a more genuinely compelling mission --- because THAT would make for a genuinely compelling MOVIE. 

Overall, I'd still recommend SUICIDE SQUAD on the strength of many of the performances, a refreshingly spry tongue-in-cheek tone, and a surprising amount of heart for a fairly dark subject matter. I would also urge fans of the genre to ignore the ridiculously excessive negative critical feedback the film has piled up. It's a B, B minus...not an F, unless the F is for Fuck the Critics, that is. 

Wait, did David Ayer take over my blog...?



PS: There IS a mid-credits scene...
...so don't be in such a hurry to leave the theater!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Game of Boneheads: GOT & the 2016 Presidential Campaign

Game of Thrones has never quite been my favorite TV show. Seemingly a mere dragon's breath away, there’s always some drug kingpin, ad exec or Minnesota peace officer blocking its path, ironically keeping the HBO juggernaut from assuming the throne in my mental kingdom of current TV series. 


Still, with very few missteps, it’s been wildly entertaining so far this year. But in terms of sheer head-shaking absurdity, stomach-churning obscenity, vein-popping hostility and skin-crawling insanity, whether it be it from Westeros to the Wall and even the White Walkers themselves — Game of Thrones has absolutely nothing on the most downright disturbing reality show of all time: the 2016 Presidential Campaign.

However, one doesn't need the insight (or is it foresight) of a Three-Eyed Raven to see that they may have far more in common beyond dreading what the Winter will bring…

Cersei Lannister was married to an affable war-tested glutton of a man who ascended to the ultimate position of authority and rule. But this was a union built more on practicality and pragmatism rather than true love. Even though her husband sat in the most coveted seat in all the lands, clearly she was the one who truly sought such power. 

Her sheer ruthlessness in political matters and hawkishness in military affairs combined with a penchant for duplicitous plotting made her a foe few wanted to challenge. Stir her fierce maternal instincts into that [rhymes with witches'] brew, and it's easy to see how she became a leader that few wanted, but far fewer could ever deny that this cunning and deceitful queen had earned her place at the top.


So...there’s your Hillary. All that's needed now is an inane subplot where it's revealed that Cersei inappropriately used her own personal unkindness of ravens to deliver and receive messages pertaining to matters of state. Incidentally, how unbelievably cool is it that a gathering of ravens is actually called an unkindness? And get this, another word that can be used for any bunch of those black-feathered birdies — is a conspiracy of ravens! The more you know…

But dubious fun with thesauruses aside, what about her opponent? Well, that aligns almost perfectly…

The High Sparrow’s life was devoted to the plight of the poor, not the indulgence of the privileged. He saw firsthand how they were all too often of low moral character, as if the gold in their pockets was in equal weight to the sin in their souls. As his perspective was alien to those in control, the High Sparrow was easily underestimated. Despite his age, his rise to power was almost meteoric, but many still scoffed. 

A pious man in a world without virtue? What could one voice possibly do? But his words enthralled and inspired both the young and disaffected, and his zealotry to expunge sin and punish the immoral was the sole focus of his expanding movement, putting him at odds with one-time ally Cersei.

The cult-like blind devotion of his followers showcased the High Sparrow's inability to see the big picture, for there were even far greater threats outside their borders than the sinners within. So even as his power grew, the foreboding dangers to the citizenry of Westeros and beyond multiplied as well. And these enemies are unlikely to be slowed or swayed by the eloquent and righteous words of a single stubborn old man.

Bernie Sanders, meet your humble but still dangerous doppleganger: the High Sparrow.

Since I’ve matched up the Hill as well as the Bern…that only now leaves the Donald. It’s a damn shame I didn’t whip this goofy time-killer up several months ago, when there were still the likes of Jeb “Stannis” Bush and Ben “Grand Master Pycelle” Carson to mock. Of course, it would likely have resulted in a blog as long as one of these George R.R. Martin opuses that I will NEVER EVER read.

Nope, now there's just that pablum-spewing PUMPKIN HEAD to pair up with some scourge of the Seven Kingdoms. Now, I'm sure a more knee-jerk selection process would point to someone horrifically horrible and dreadfully detestable (feeding my alliteration addiction), like a Joffrey or Ramsey. But that’s too easy, too obvious, and in all honesty, simply not the right fit for who Donald Trump is, what he represents…and what havoc a Trump victory would wreak upon the world. 

Far more than the High Sparrow, there was an entity almost no one took seriously. A bizarre looking creature that was more a joke or a fairy tale, a bogeyman more likely to inspire the laughter of disbelief rather than shudders of fear. But this ominous danger grew as the monster's violent minions multiplied, a truly brain-dead army completely devoid of all reason and thought. And now, as these terrifying forces march onward, the world is finally becoming aware that this nightmare is very real...and possibly unstoppable as well.


From a death reaping bad-ass to a dickish tweeting dumb-ass, Donald J. Trump is our Night King. And if enough voters don't wise up and step up, we may end up with a Mad King.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Crash Flash Course on "Who is Jay Garrick" -- Ironically, the Fastest Blog I've Ever Written!


I'm a longtime Flash Fanatic, a Speed Force Enthusiast since I first laid eyes on a four-color panel of the Flash over forty years ago. So naturally, I've got cartoon hearts for eyes when it comes to the current TV series: THE FLASH. In an era of comic book movies with dimmed color palettes and an overload of morose brooding -- it's a show that remembers that DC Comics was also about fun and wonder. It may not be the best series on TV, but it's certainly the one I look most forward to seeing week after week -- as well as chatting about with an equally colorful cast of characters on a podcast I co-host.

I saw someone wondering about "who was Jay Garrick" on a Facebook page, and as I was typing up a rather wordy response -- I realized this deserved to be a blog rather than a post. Now, I'm not gonna get too crazily technical or get bogged down in confusing minutia (hopefully), because this is meant for the non-comic book geeky who wanna know a little something about Jay Garrick — and to explain that, one has to give a crash course on the history of DC Comics as a whole. 


In terms of comic book history (or any other kind), Jay Garrick is the original Flash, created way back in 1940. A college kid who got his speed powers from inhaling "hard water vapors" [what, being hit by a bolt of lightning and splashed with chemicals is MORE believable?], Jay Garrick had his own solo adventures as he whizzed around Keystone City as well as being a founding member in the first “super-team” of all comics — the legendary Justice Society of America. But those Golden Age All-Star adventures ended by 1951, and it seemed as though the world would never see characters like the Flash again…

…until 1956, when DC Comics decided to reinvent the superhero genre once again (for the years in-between, the only superheroes still around were Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman). The first character they recreated was — the Flash, only this time he was police scientist Barry Allen living in Central City. Dressed in a far sleeker (and aerodynamic) outfit, he was the first of the new Silver Age of heroes in comic books.

A few years later, after DC had created all-new versions of characters such as Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom as well as a brand new super-team for this generation (of course, it was the Justice League of America), longtime readers were wondering whatever happened to those beloved heroes from the 40s. So a plan was hatched to give both the older fans and the new blood a thrill by finding a way to bring back those early incarnations. 

But how could they explain this? This being the age of science fiction, fantasy and wonder — DC hit upon the idea that the Golden Age characters from the 40s…were actually on a parallel Earth. They named it Earth-2 (although technically, many have long joked it SHOULD have been Earth-1), where all those slightly older heroes and villains still existed. DC also retroactively drew a line in the sand for their existing trinity of heroes (Batman, Superman & Wonder Woman) — indicating that up to a certain point, the universes in those ongoing books had “changed” (for example, now you were suddenly following the adventures of the Earth-1 Batman with the yellow oval around his bat-symbol as opposed to the original Earth-2 Batman sans oval in the previous issue).


The first re-introduction to any of these characters came in The Flash. In fact, I believe they even hit upon the idea that the heroes from yesteryear had seeped into the consciousness of Earth-1 and had actually appeared in comic books there — so one of Barry Allen’s inspirations to be the Flash — was the old Flash stories he read as a child. Anyway, in the classic tale “Flash of Two Worlds” — Jay Garrick bridges the gap between the two worlds (it’s really not important how this happens — though it would occur time and time again afterwards), and Barry got to meet Jay. After that, the two Flashes would occasionally pop up on each other’s worlds, and every year, members of the JSA would meet up with the JLA in a much beloved annual event (the titles of many of those stories invariably used the word “Crisis”).

After Earth-2, another parallel world was discovered that only featured villainous semi-dopplegangers (it also turned out the one hero was a man named Alexander Luthor) — so that planet was named Earth-3. And every time DC Comics got the rights to a new selection of characters from a former competitor (such as Charleston Comics or Fawcett Comics) — they’d just add another Earth to the mix…as well as any other weird or alternate reality — implying there were dozens, maybe hundreds of parallel Earths. 

This went on for about 25 years, until one of the biggest events in comic book history hit the stands: the Crisis on Infinite Earths — where DC essentially said “OK, that’s enough of that” and wiped out almost all the Earths and a number of characters as well. This Crisis is the one that headline kept teasing viewers about in Season 1 of The Flash. Let’s just say…the Flash played a major part in it.

Of course, DC’s way of fixing things only caused more problems, and they’ve been trying to undo this ever since. I won’t bore you with the insane number of events and changes that have taken place over the past 30 years — beyond saying they’ve went and reestablished a multiverse all over again. Much like most killed-off characters on comic books, nothing ever stays dead or destroyed forever. Fun fact — at one point, both Barry Allen and Oliver Queen were dead — and later brought back. 

Now I hear there’s been a new younger Jay Garrick in the past few years (which I prefer to ignore), but I’m 99.9% certain the Jay we’re going to be seeing on the show is a version of the one who was wearing that helmet for over 70 years. He’s the first Flash, the Golden Age Flash, the Earth-2 Flash. Whether he was in a kid's comic book or the hero he met and fought alongside, Jay Garrick was both an inspiration and a mentor to Barry Allen. Easily one of the most beloved characters of his era, every Flash fan hooted and hollered when we saw his "Mercury by way of the first World War" helmet spinning out of that wormhole last season — and we hope this TV version of Jay can carry the mantle of the Crimson Comet with panache and pride. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

MOVIE MOVIE MOVIE: My Mini-Reviews of TRAINWRECK, JURASSIC WORLD, ANT-MAN and INSIDE OUT

Since I knocked off 4 flicks over the past week (one through generosity of a friend & the other three as part of my triple feature yesterday), I thought I’d dole out some quickie reviews:


TRAINWRECK: At its core, it's your typical Judd Apatow-directed semi-rom-com: a tad beat-by-beat formulaic, a teensy bit raunchy and more than a bit too long. However, Amy Schumer is a human dynamo of funny (she wrote the damn thing too), and while Bill Hader plays the slightly thankless straight man, he's still wonderfully appealing -- and both Lebron James (!!!) and Colin Quinn steal every scene they’re in. The flaws are largely irrelevant here -- you're going for one reason -- to laugh your ass off.

JURASSIC WORLD: Forget the all the rampaging dinos;  this theme park is overloaded with painfully clunky dialogue and overstuffed with several stock characters written thinner than my local deli slices the Swiss (I was gonna say "cuts the cheese", but some girl actually did that in the theater). And don’t get me started on those kids...I never knew how good the child actors were in Jurassic PARK until I sat through Jurassic WORLD. But damned if Chris Pratt doesn't continue to have that special stardusted quality; there's no denying that the effects are impressive, and if you can switch off your brain for about two hours, you will be entertained. It's the epitome of a popcorn crunching summer blockbuster -- just not a great one.

ANT-MAN: I enjoyed this film considerably more than AGE OF ULTRON (which was fun, but little more than bombastic comfort food and not much else beyond Spader's amusingly droll voice). This tiny wonder is a deft mix of comedy and drama with a definite heart as well. Rudd is surprisingly believable as a hero; it’s the most I’ve liked Evangeline Lilly since LOST Season 1, and the most impressive VFX isn’t the magnificent macro-photography—it’s the digital wizardry that makes Michael Douglas look 30 years younger in the opening scene. ANT-MAN sounded like a preposterous notion, but it turns out to be one of the best MCU movies yet.



INSIDE OUT: This was the first Pixar film I’ve gone to see in FIVE years, and it was well worth it. I was very impressed with what I felt was a rather daring script, dealing with issues and concepts that would be beyond most kids (and probably quite a few adults as well). I spent the first thinking “Oh, they’re not going to squeeze one tear outta me this time.” But by the end credits were rolling, so were the tears, and much like TOY STORY 3, UP and WALL-E, my face was ruddy and streaked with those salty eye jail escapees. Glad I ended my triple feature with this one, as it wore me out with “the feels”. 

Now, I need to devise a way to see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION before summer's end. Then I can decide if  MAD MAX: FURY ROAD remains the Best Summer Action Movie of 2015 (other than the occasional Tasmanian Devil cartoon, I've never sat through anything that was both "fast" and "furious" -- and I have no plans to ever change that).

PS: someone needs to give Judy Greer a better part other than these minor "mom" roles, which was the case with both ANT-MAN and JURASSIC WORLD (I think I heard she was yet another main character's mother in TOMORROWLAND as well). I'm shocked she wasn't the animated mom in INSIDE OUT. It's a complete waste of such a sublime talent -- and not much better than the "best friend" roles she used to be relegated to playing on the big screen...just less snarky and more weepy.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Maybe My Next Screenplay? Stranger Things Have Happened...

With the dawn of a new year, I thought I'd try to find time to write do some screenwriting work again. You know, as someone purporting to be a writer should be doing practically every day. This is not one of my resolutions, as they are more focused on my financial and physical well being. Make my wallet fat and the rest of me --well, not.

Although I’m still waiting to find out if I’ll need to do more touch-up work on DO NOT DISTURB, that's no excuse for letting my imagination atrophy. I considered attempting something that was semi-autobiographical (perhaps inspired by the likes of BOYHOOD or even THIS BOY’S LIFE). I even began to create the framework of a non-linear story -- even if I was unsure where it would lead or when it would end. But I ultimately decided I wasn’t in the right mind space to work on something that would cleave so close to the bone. Luckily, that's something I will always have in reserve to tap at a later time.

So the next-to-last day of 2014, I cracked open a file containing a couple scripts I started back in late 2013. I dusted one off and BEGAN tinkering and rewriting the first few pages. Maybe it’ll be a pet project I can work occasionally while trying to get ye olde life completely back on track. I remembered dicking about with this script idea off and on for a LONG time, waffling on any number of possible titles until settling on the simple but elegant RUBOUT.
 
One thing I like about this idea…is it takes me in yet another direction genre-wise. I’ve done the road trip/crime comedy thing, a horror-vampire-western and of course – a straight forward thriller. RUBOUT would also have thriller elements – but it would really fall under the Sci-Fi genre, something I haven't done before. If I was giving one of those clich├ęd but still frequently used style pitches, I’d say it’s LOOPER meets IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE with maybe a little MEMENTO in the mix?
 
 
Of course, it's not nearly as smart as any of those, but you get the idea where I’m mining here. In fact, I already have two totally different and twisty directions I might take the story in by the time I hit the third act -- I just need to determine which is the better path and the more satisfying journey.
 
Anyway, it’s something I’ll dabble with over the course of the next few months in-between work (while I still have an actual day-to-day job), podcasts, any DO NOT DISTURB-related activities (fingers eternally crossed) and Lord knows what else (and no, I don’t mean watching too much TV – I can always find time for that glorious time-sucking brain-drain). For the handful of folks who have expressed their appreciation for my previous scripting efforts, here's a sneak peek at the first few pages -- which I suspect (just like the last couple scripts) will end up being completely changed, cut and redone at some point in the distant future!
 
 
RUBOUT
written by Scot Eric Candiotti
 
 
INT. CLASSROOM – DAY

 
Two dozen FIRST-GRADERS loudly mill about the edges of the
room. The TEACHER, middle-aged and pleasant, tries to restore
order.

 
TEACHER
Everyone line up in size order.
Milton, you’re on the wrong end of
that line.

 
MILTON, a beefy kid who’s seven going on seventeen, frowns at
the mention of his name. He turns towards the front of the
line and locks eyes with ANDY, a frail wisp of a child with
glasses held together by a thick wad of Band-Aids.

 
Milton makes a quick threatening gesture with a hunched
shoulder. Andy flinches, shrinking away from the bully.

 
MILTON
(sneers)
Thought so.

 
Milton walks past the other boys on line, and a few even step
to the right to make room. JACK, a calm six-year-old boy in
the midst of the bustling brats, seems blissfully unaware as
his eyes remain trained on the teacher.

 
INT. GYMNASIUM – DAY

 
The first-graders have formed a huge ring as each sits cross-legged
on the floor. One GIRL slowly walks around the circle
of children, tapping each one on the shoulder as she passes.

 
GIRL
Duck, duck, duck...
(taps Andy)
...goose!

 
Andy scrambles to his feet and chases the girl around the
circle while the other children CLAP AND LAUGH. The girl
dekes out Andy and slides into the spot he had vacated.

 
Smiling in mock resignation, Andy takes over the role of the
picker, gently touching each kid with one finger as he
strolls by them.

 
ANDY
Duck, duck, duck...
(taps Jack)
...goose!

 
Jack jumps up and runs after the speedy Andy. The two zoom
around their cheering classmates until Andy makes it back to
the ring just inches ahead of Jack’s grasping hands.

 
Jack is now the picker. After scanning the circle of kids,
the ritual resumes.

 
JACK
Duck, duck, duck, duck, duck...
(taps Milton)
...goose!

 
Milton lumbers after Jack like a linebacker hunting a
quarterback. Their speed increases as they spin around the
kids, THE WHISTLES AND HOWLS BECOMING A DIZZYING DRONE--

 
--Until Jack stops short, turns and PUNCHES MILTON IN THE
THROAT. DOWN GOES MILTON! Sitting atop the mini-hulk’s body,
Jack proceeds to go Fight-Club on Milton’s face, each fist
landing with a wet, sickening thud.

 
The teacher makes her way through the crowd of kids watching
the melee. But by the time she reaches the center of the
newly formed circle, the beating is over and Jack is standing
over Milton, serenely wiping his hands with a paper napkin.

 
INT. PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE – DAY

 
Hands lightly clasped on his lap, Jack sits quietly as the
PRINCIPAL talks to JACK’S MOM. The principal is an older
African-American woman with a weak smile and a strong voice.
Jack’s mom is a no-make-up and no-nonsense 40.

 
PRINCIPAL
I need to ask some questions about
your son, to see if there’s deeper
issues to be concerned about here.

 
JACK’S MOM
Such as?

 
PRINCIPAL
About Jack’s home life. This sort
of aggression is often a sign of abuse--

 
JACK’S MOM
Abuse? It’s just the two of us, and
I’ve never raised a hand to my son.
I’ve never even had to raise my voice.

 
PRINCIPAL
But there can be other indicators. For
example, has he ever started any fires
or harmed any small animals?

 
JACK’S MOM
Of course not -- that’s horrible!

 
PRINCIPAL
I’m sorry, but I’ve seen enough
studies to know it needs to be asked.
The total compartmentalization of his
emotions and actions suggests
possible sociopathic tendencies—

 
JACK’S MOM
Excuse me, are you the principal
and the school psychologist?

 
PRINCIPAL
Unfortunately, we no longer have
the budget for a psychologist, but—

 
JACK’S MOM
Then I’ll thank you not to play
amateur shrink with my son. He’s
not Hannibal Lecter. He had a fight
with a classmate that got a little
rough, that’s all. Boys’ll be boys.

 
PRINCIPAL
Little rough?

 
The principal motions towards the doorway looking out into
the general school office. Seated on a bench is MILTON. His
face is puffy and bruised, with a bandage wrapped around his
head like a silent film star with a toothache.

 
PRINCIPAL (CONT’D)
He knocked out three of the boy’s
teeth and dislocated his jaw.

 
INT. SCHOOL CORRIDOR – DAY

 
Flustered, Jack’s mom marches him down the corridor. A hall
pass held firmly in one hand, ANDY waits near the exit.

 
As Jack gets closer, his eyes briefly meet Andy’s, and THEIR
FREE HANDS LIGHTLY SLAP AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. His hand now
balled in a fist, Jack and his mom exit.

 
INT. JACK’S MOM’S CAR - DAY

 
Jack’s mom reaches over to buckle Jack in before fixing her
own seat belt. She reaches to start the ignition, but instead
looks at her son with genuine concern.

 
JACK’S MOM
You’d talk to me if you were having
any problems, right?

 
JACK
Of course, Mom.

 
JACK’S MOM
I’ll always gonna be here for you,
Jack. Remember what I say? The sun
can go out, the moon and stars may
fall...

 
JACK
But I’ll always be your one and
all. I know, Mom.

 
As Jack’s mom starts the car, he opens his fist to reveal A
CRUMPLED FIVE DOLLAR BILL. He leans back in his seat and
closes his eyes, that familiar serene expression on his face.

 
THIRTY YEARS LATER

 
INT. BEDROOM – DAY

 
JACK is asleep.

 
His fingers are entwined and resting on his bare chest, as if
posed by an undertaker. Not a strand of hair is out of place,
and every feature of his face is clean cut and precise.

 
There is a silver nickel-sized DISC embedded in his right
temple. THE DISC GLOWS ORANGE AND JACK’S EYES OPEN.

 
The room’s blinds simultaneously flutter open as well.
Diffused sunlight streams into a room of varying shades of
grey. Jack taps the disc, and it returns to its original
gleaming silver state.

 
INT. SHOWER STALL, BATHROOM - DAY

 
As the soapy lather is rinsed from Jack’s face, he double-taps
the disc. A GREEN HOLOGRAPHIC DISPLAY APPEARS IN MIDAIR,
floating in the midst of the steaming jets of water.

 
THE DISPLAY COLLAPSES INTO A SINGLE ANIMATED LINE.

 
ROBBIE (V.O.)
Good morning, sir.

 
Robbie’s voice is pitch-perfect elocution, robotic only in the
sense there is no discernible accent. As “he” speaks, the
ANIMATED LINE jiggles and fluctuates like a SOUND WAVE.

 
JACK
Good morning, Robbie. Let’s have
the morning’s agenda, audio only,
please.

 
ROBBIE (V.O.)
Today is Wednesday, December 15,
2045. It is now Seven Twenty-Three,
Eastern Standard Time and the
current weather conditions is forty-four
degrees and breezy. You have a
meeting with Mister Falco scheduled
in ninety-seven minutes.

 
JACK
Thank you Robbie. Have the Warp
warmed up and ready for departure
in twenty, please.

 
Jack double-taps the disc again, and the floating
sound wave disappears.