AN EMPIRE OF ONE

If you don't think everything's really weird, you're not paying attention.

Moana

moana-poster

While watching Moana, I felt there was a problem, but the film is the very definition of entertaining. It draws you in, takes you on a journey through a whole new world, and leaves you with a smile on your face. In other words, it leaves you no time to think while your watching, but once the lights come up, it cannot stop the brain from doing its job.

So there’s a problem with Moana. I’m not sure what, but I’m going to try to figure it out.

Moana is made up of two parts. There’s the setup, then there’s Moana’s hero’s journey. I have the feeling that there’s some kind of barrier between the two that separates them, like the barrier reef that separates Moana’s island from the larger world. Perhaps the film’s problem is simply a lack of unity between these two parts. Let’s see.

  1. Setup. The situation is this: the islanders have used too many resources. Fish have disappeared; coconuts are rotting.
  2. Solution: fish beyond the barrier or leave the island for a new one
  3. Problem: the King says no. His reason is simply personal: a personal tragedy makes him stand firm
  4. Solution: get rid of the King. Replace the absolute (but benevolent, of course) monarchy with some kind of democracy. That is, revolution is the logical solution to the problem depicted in the story’s setup.

But for some reason the story goes in an entirely different direction: it turns into a single hero’s journey. In the discussion after the film at my screening, the two directors and screenwriter specifically referred to the hero’s journey and Joseph Campbell. Like so many Hollywood creators nowadays, they know the hero’s journey template backwards and forwards. And they wanted this story to follow that template even though the logic of the story as they set it up did not lend itself to this type of story.

So what did they do to get it going in the direction they wanted it to go? Well, the film doesn’t actually begin by depicting the situation. It begins with a myth, the story of a Hercules/Prometheus type figure, Maui, and he is blamed for the “darkness” falling on the land, the reason why the coconuts are rotting and the fish have vanished. What did he do? He stole the heart from a goddess. Why? Who knows?

What this does is shift the blame for the ecological catastrophe the islanders face to a mythical demigod and therefore the solution to the problem is also placed in the realm of magical thinking.

The solution to a real world problem is shifted into the realm of fantasy. This division in the film’s structure is actually quite common in Hollywood films. But this film makes the division even more blatant than it usually is.

More problems:

5. Why is Moana chosen by the Ocean? Because she saves the baby turtle. She shows empathy for other creatures and therefore passes the Ocean’s test to become the Chosen One. Such a low bar test , however, implies that the other islanders are all unworthy because they all lack basic empathy. They just don’t care about other living beings, and this sort of fits the situation: they’ve used up resources, killed off all the fish. But the film does not have the courage to depict them as lacking empathy. Once again, the natural causes of their problem are bypassed and the demigod Maui is blamed. Before we meet him, we expect him to be a badass evil guy. He turns out not to be evil, but it’s never explained why he stole the heart of the Goddess other than getting carried away. Something like: he did it because he could. In any case, blaming him lets the islanders of the hook. But it also produces a film that lacks unity.

6. Perhaps the greatest problem with the film, however, is that it is formulaic. I’ve already said that the filmmakers referred to Joseph Campbell and his hero’s journey. But other screenplays gurus seem to be in control of their minds, too. Every time Moana saved a turtle or the chicken, it made me think: “How many copies of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder does the screenwriter ownThe topper may have been this, said by the screenwriter during the post-screening discussion: “The audience has expectations for these types of films that they want fulfilled, but in a new, surprising way.” “Expectations” = formulas.

This film never had a chance to be as good and original as it could have been because the filmmakers felt they needed to take the story down the well-trodden road of the hero’s journey, and it lacks unity because they could not or would not risk offending people by showing the islanders themselves as the cause of their environmental problem. Given that our own, real world faces a problem similar to the islanders of Moana, is this really the type of story we need?

Bottom Line:

Application of the formulas: B+

Originality: C

Clear Thinking: F

 

Written by David Kilmer

December 10, 2016 at 9:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Knowing Thyself: Another Top 10 List

The other day I asked a comic book writer, “What is your favorite comic book?” His answer? “Ahh… ummmm.” In other words, he didn’t know.

The ancient Greeks said, “Know thyself,” that is, know what makes you tick, know what turns you on, know what turns you off.

Recently, the BBC published the results of a poll which answered the question: what are the greatest films of the 21st century. Of course, they didn’t ask me, but that didn’t stop me from answering the question because I find lists are great tools for helping me “know myself.”

The BBC’s list names 100 films. I’ve only seen a bit more than half those titles, so perhaps I’m unqualified to make a list. However, of the ones I have seen there was no question of ever including most of them. They just weren’t interesting enough. Or at least not nearly as interesting (to me) as the following:

1. In the Mood for Love
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. The Big Short
4. Drive
5. The Hateful Eight
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
7. La Commune
8. The Avengers/The Avengers: Age of Ultron
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. The Host (2006)
11. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
12. Los Angeles Plays Itself
13. Where to Invade Next

These are the new films I’ve seen since January 2000 that knocked my socks off. Others, at best, were “OK.” For example, Mulholland Drive, which tops the BBC poll, is a film I find inferior to other works by Lynch, mainly Eraserhead and Twin Peaks. But it’s “OK.”

So, having done this list, do I know myself a bit better? Yes, status confirmed: still a weirdo.

 

Written by David Kilmer

September 19, 2016 at 12:02 am

Posted in Films

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Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

miss-peregrines-home-movie-poster1

This film was not boring.

It was not boring despite not being original.

It’s not original in the same way most movies out of Hollywood are not original nowadays.

It’s a re-mix. A re-mix of many familiar elements.

First and foremost, X-Men. The posters already suggested that, as did the title.

But it’s also Brigadoon.

A bit of Grimm, the TV show.

And especially Burton movies. Lots of them. In fact, you could say it’s a Burton sampler, a parade of his greatest hits.

Frankenweenie.

Edward Scissorhands.

Ed Wood.

Big Fish.

Alice in Wonderland.

And more.

A lot’s there, all cleverly stitched together.

Like I said, a re-mix, or as Burton likes to say, “re-imagining,” but it’s a re-imagining of stuff that’s been re-imagined several times already.

No, it’s never boring, but it’s not original, either.

Not for lack of trying. There are some peculiar things in the mix that could just be new to the Burton universe.

Maybe. Possibly. I’m not so sure.

But even if there’s something new there, it’s not enough to add up to something unique and memorable like the originals from which this film borrows (steals?) so much.

But rest assured, don’t worry, you won’t be bored, or maybe you will. Maybe the film needs you need to be peculiar, too; that is, peculiar enough to have never seen a Burton film.

I don’t know.

However, I do know this: if you choose to stay home and watch Frankenweenie, or Edward Scissorhands, or Ed Wood, or even Big Fish, instead, don’t worry. You won’t miss a thing.

But that’s just sad.

I saw the film about a week ago at a Hollywood preview.

miss_peregrines_01Martin Landau (who was present at the footprint ceremony that preceded the screening) may have been in the audience, watching the film with the rest of us. Why do I think this? Because I spotted him making his way to the nearest restroom. No one bothered him, perhaps because they did not recognize him. Perhaps they did not care. I cared, but I, too, did not bother him. (However, it would be a lie to say the thought did not cross my mind for I was carrying a script of Ed Wood and that script was calling out, indeed, screaming for the signature of Martin Landau.)

Back to the preview: it was supposedly a “fan screening,” according to my ticket, but most seats were off-limits to fans:

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The few seats that weren’t reserved were already taken.  So we experienced a bit of adventure as we waited to see if any of those “reserved” seats would open up. Finally, they opened the unfilled reserved seats, we sat down, and the show began.

It began on an exciting note with short intro’s by the novel’s author (Ransom Riggs) and the film’s director (Tim Burton).

And then, more than two hours later, it ended with scattered, polite applause.

Just sad.

Written by David Kilmer

September 15, 2016 at 12:00 am

BUY THIS BOOK! THE CINEMA OF WONG KAR WAI

Cinema of Wong Kar Wai (Large)

I’m not going to spoil this book by posting any of its many, splendid pictures or attempting to describe what you’ll find inside.

All I should need to say is this:

If you’re a film fan, you need this book. You need THE CINEMA OF WONG KAR WAI by Wong Kar Wai and John Powers. Just buy it!

However, for those who need a bit more, I’ll say this:

Cinephiles often dream of a book by their favorite filmmakers in which the filmmakers do not shy away from any subject. In this dream book, the filmmakers talk freely, about the meaning of their films, how they did certain tricks, and even their personal lives.

THE CINEMA OF WONG KAR WAI is that book.

In it Wong talks personal, he talks meaning, he talks shop. Wong himself says he has not previously been willing to talk about most of the things in this book. Why the change? If you take the journey with Wong and John Powers from cover to cover, something I recommend, you will come to an end where Wong explains why he decided to open up and you will be moved.

To say more will spoil the book. Even to flip through the pages will spoil it. So save up your pennies (it ain’t cheap), buy it, tear off the cellophane, open the book to page one, and start your journey with Wong Kar Wai and John Powers. You won’t be disappointed.

9/10 stars (At least one star off for numerous typos. I counted four typos in Young Orson by Peter McGilligan (yes, I’m one of those people), but four was enough to drive me nuts. I don’t know if there’s even a word to describe what all the typos in the Wong book did to me.)

FYI: I paid for my copy. It was NOT a free review copy.

EXTRA: When a book is as expensive as the Wong Kar Wai book, why not treat it nice? First, if it has a dust jacket, Brodart it, that is, put a plastic cover on the dj. Second, to avoid bending, or even cracking, the book’s spine, do this:

HowToOpenABook2

Finally, I recommend putting the book in a plastic bag. Books hate dust, but plastic will keep them safe.

Maybe you think plastic bags are a bit much. Maybe you think it’s all a bit much. But do you really want your beautiful copy of The Cinema of Wong Kar Wai to end up like this?

MildewBook2

If you say, “Yes!,” please don’t try to borrow my copy. I won’t answer the door when you knock and I’ll hide in the dark until you go away.

 

Written by David Kilmer

May 20, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Orson Welles Died Thirty Years Ago Today

Written by David Kilmer

October 10, 2015 at 1:00 am

Posted in Film Directors

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Was This Robot the Inspiration for Star Wars’ BB-8?

BB-8, the new droid in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer 2 (2015)

TechnologicalThreatRobot

The robot in Technological Threat (1988) by Bill Kroyer

BB-8 in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer 1 (2014)

Written by David Kilmer

April 16, 2015 at 11:46 am

Posted in Films

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Mad John Elder

Written by David Kilmer

September 17, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized