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Successful ensemble films

good

Guardians of the Galaxy is better at ensemble casts than Avengers. I’m only comparing the first movies in each case, as I’m not sure if Age of Ultron did it better or if Civil War technically counts as an Avengers movie. I considered going over Suicide Squad as well, but since I haven’t seen it and have never had any desire to do so, I contented myself with mentioning it where appropriate.

They each have a fair-sized group of characters with distinct abilities, personalities, and histories. But Avengers makes the mistake of treating them like a lineup. Most are introduced in a scene almost divorced from the larger narrative. Recruiting is a not always the best way to show a team assembling. It is certainly better than Suicide Squad’s dumb Powerpoint slide intro card things. But in the case of the Avengers, these are characters who either had their own movie, almost had their own movie, or will never get one but should have done. Thor is the only one whose introduction into the movie is organic.

Conversely, in Guardians of the Galaxy, each of the characters comes into the story rather than being recruited into the movie. Although it’s worth noting that this film didn’t go the same route of movies tying in to each other, I don’t think it’s the reason that GotG worked better. It all comes down to telling the story in a natural way, rather than the committee-driven look of introducing characters rather than integrating them.

Another thing that helps is that GotG has a main character. Even Suicide Squad had Deadshot. Starlord is the heart of the story, a stabilising force on the team (as much of a leader as they really have), and gives the movie an audience proxy. The movie isn’t Starlord Plus These Other Guys, either. He doesn’t get screen time or story focus instead of another character getting it.

An argument can be made that Nick Fury is the main character of Avengers, but if he is, then he’s a weak one. Too much of him is held back because he’s mysterious, and he is technically a supporting character for the ensemble, not a part of it.

Maybe this means that GotG is a better film overall than Avengers. maybe it doesn’t. That would need to take into account quite a few additional factors to determine, in my opinion.

Superhero comics are one of the places one can look for ensemble casts, though I can’t speak to their average quality. (Fantastic Four, cough cough) Superhero ensembles that have made it to film, at least in recent years, haven’t tended to be good ensembles. Big Hero 6 had a team in it, but it was a Boy and His Robot movie. Aside from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that Roger Corman Fantastic Four… occurrence… in 1994, there wasn’t a comic book superhero team movie until Mystery Men.

Now there are a fair number, so it might be interesting to go over them and see how they did.

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Why I Don’t Like Up

thoughtful

Listening to: Lilac Wine – Jeff Buckley

I think we should stop using the word theory for fan theories. Theory implies that it’s an idea one feels to be true, when there is not really such a think as truth in fiction–only accuracy, intention, or honesty. My thing about Up is not a fan theory, it’s a way that I have analysed the repulsing affect this movie has on me. I apologise if I’ve repeat anything I’ve said before. Also, I probably spelled names wrong and totally forgot one of the character’s names, but I’ll just have to be forgiven. I want to post this and if I don’t put Owen to sleep right now, he’s going to IMPLODE.

This morning, Owen was watching Up, a movie that I have never cared for, and he watches on effing repeat. A lot of people say that the beginning is too sad, and I agree, but probably not for the same reasons. After the tearjerker open, the rest of the story tugs gradually less at the heartstrings. It actually parallels fairly well with the increasing levels of silliness. At the saddest possible moment, when Mr Frederikson is seconds away from being forced to leave his home (which he seems to have as a placeholder for his wife, to the point of conflation, in an emotional sense) the whimsy kicks in.

It’s a great moment, but everything that happens afterward is zany. I hate that word, and it describes exactly what it’s like to watch this movie. As in a dream, elements of Mr Frederikson’s life are combined and spat back out in unlikely ways that give him things that he wanted in his life, which were never possible.

Russell’s character is obvious. The Frederiksons wanted to have children, but were unable to do so. So his mind takes the actual child he met and crafts a believable fantasy. Not just a kid to bond with, but one who slowly erodes whatever defences he built up when he learned he wouldn’t be a father (“I don’t like kids anyway” kind of thing) and then provides a fulfilment of the protective instinct by needing a father figure where his expected one failed.

A blurry one is the dog, Dug. From what we saw of Mr Frederikson’s family, they appeared to be repressed and strict, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he was one of the many boys who wanted a dog and couldn’t have one. It also looks like he lived in a city (I assumed Manhattan for some reason) so there’s another reason a dog might not happen. And don’t even get me started on the significance of dogs in dream interpretation.

The last and zaniest fantasy is that of meeting his childhood hero. This one is a giant Torgue-y level of explosion noise, psychologically speaking. Mr Frederikson doesn’t just go to that long-promised vacation spot. He meets the explorer whom both he and his wife admired as children. This is basically what brought them together. And upon meeting the man, he discovers that he is psychotic, murderous, and although his accomplishments remain the stuff of admiration, the man himself goes from hero to threat.

Where to even start with that one? I could liken the childhood hero to Mr Frederikson’s marriage, relationship with his wife, and/or the inspiration and drive to just live every day. His wife’s death was like finding out that the hero was evil. What good is love, if it ends this painfully, one might say. (I wouldn’t, but other people do think that way) I thought that the plot point where Mr Frederikson has to throw out a bunch of his material possessions so that he can save the day seemed tacked on, an extraneous message that didn’t need to be there.

But what if. What if it isn’t just an anti-materialism message? What if the hero/villain does represent the pain of Mrs Frederikson’s death, and letting go of all of the things meant that in order to save himself from that pain, he had to stop living in the past? Maybe he was forcing himself to stop using his wife’s possessions as a crutch to avoid accepting her death. Eventually, the house “dies” with the villain.

The ending is idealistic and the sense of scale is insane. There aren’t any consequences for spending days in South America. The only important thing is that Russell gets to have his father figure fulfill a specific need. The mind is not rational in fantasy. None of this is real.

To me, though, it doesn’t come off like a funny fantasy story, not with a beginning like that. To me, it looks like the last spinning dream of a man who has given up. Manic, frenzied, telling jokes that aren’t funny and then laughing at itself. Nothing feels real because it isn’t.

I don’t like this movie because it feels like watching someone hallucinate while he lies dying.

 

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Fanfic Guys Need to Act Like Guys

This is something that has been bothering me for an incredibly long time. Today, I think I have finally nailed it down to an expressible idea. Probably it is due to the combination of reading old posts on Pottersues, Avengers fan fiction, and a particularly pragmatic Megan Frampton romance, all in one very long morning. And it might be a long post, so bear with me.

Spoiler: The point mostly pertains to fan fiction.

It’s (fairly) commonly accepted that most people who write fan fiction are women, and a significant number of those are quite young. I’d say under 25, or under 20, depending on the fandom. I think it would be fair to assume a lot of them do not know or understand men very well. Particularly the ones who are not talented writers. (and/or are 16)

The point about not knowing or understanding men (or boys, but the former is worse and I’ll get into why) is one reason that there is a lot of fetishising M/M romance with damaging tropes.

I’m all about smashing gender stereotypes, but male characters who use emotional manipulation more than direct confrontation, cry prettily, and squeal over cute things seem less like barrier-breakers and more like a lady who couldn’t write a male character, so she just gave a female character a masculine pronoun. And I strongly believe that men and women should be allowed to cry without being maligned for doing so. But these characters are not part of that kind of thinking. They are just girls disguised as guys. They use feminine language, have feminine habits, feminine priorities, and solve problems and communicate the way that adolescent girls do. Sometimes like women, but usually like teenage girls.

I’ve seen this in original and published M/M romance, but fan fiction is where this shit LIVES. While happily getting my Avengers fic addiction fix, I read some Cap/Iron Man fic. I love these characters. Love the actors. I am so not alone in that love, which is pretty awesome. For a long time after I realised the ship was a thing, I was happy just knowing it was a ship. I’m easily pleased. Just exist, I said. So actually reading fan fiction was rather a step up in my participation. (I don’t do fandom stuff much…)

Reading it was… awkward. I tried to feel happy and do the fangirl squee thing, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I know we all experience our movies and comic books differently and not everyone will see characters the same way, but it was distressing to me that someone sees Captain America, this guy:

ca_bucky

as a mealy-mouthed, thumb-twiddling virgin who can’t say “penis” without dying from a blush-induced heat stroke. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any characters who are virginal at any age, or who are embarrassed by sex. There is something wrong with a large consensus of people seeing those traits in a character who is not characterised that way anywhere in canon. And comic books have more canon than the Santísima Trinidad.

Steve Rogers is an adult. Not only does he have a penis, he can probably say it if he has to, especially considering all of the health issues he had at the beginning of the first movie. I have been an old-fashioned virgin. I did not like to speak bluntly about sex or genitalia, but I didn’t blush when someone said words like “oral sex,” and I didn’t fall to shy pieces if the subject came up on any level. What I did do, and what I have seen Cap do, is tastefully avoid the subject and if it did come up, stay quiet or use polite euphemism until the conversation changed. It’s an adult way to handle one’s feelings on many subjects.

“I don’t want to talk about it because I think it’s private and in this situation inappropriate,” does not equate to, “I will melt down if I try to talk about it in any situation.”

And that is only ONE thing that is going sadly, sadly wrong in fan fiction. Characters are mischaracterised (ugh that feels so redundant) all the time in fan fic. That’s a risk you run–I learned this reading pottersues when the blog was new. But by that same token, it’s not okay. It still sucks. I’m not the only reader who dislikes it. Just in this case, it links to my issues with male characterisation by writers who seem not to understand guys at all.

Which brings me to my second point–relationships. But I’m gonna have to break this into two posts. I started writing this about 14:00 today, and kept getting interrupted by an appointment with my doctor and needing to drive places. Second half of this will be written and up tomorrow morning.

 

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Big Hero 6 is Not a Team Movie

I’ve read a couple of reviews, and now I’ve seen the movie twice. One thing I couldn’t help but notice about the reviews is that the people who felt dissatisfied with the movie had the same kinds of reasons. They all said that they thought the other teammates were under-developed or under-utilised. They also admitted that the story/development between Hiro and Baymax was great.

Looking at those two statements together makes it pretty clear what happened. They went in expecting an ensemble, only to find a single protagonist narrative. The thing is, that is NOT the movie’s fault. It’s a good single protagonist narrative. A bit easy to call the plot progression, but still good.

What I think happened is that the Avengers made a huge impact, which continues to affect people’s expectations of Marvel movies. Big Hero 6 is the team name, like Avengers, so the title implies that this is about the team. But if you go in without expectations, like I did, the movie lets you know exactly what it is.

I didn’t even see the trailer until today. There are apparently two, one from about six months before release, the second about two months before release.

See? Does not look like a team movie. The team doesn’t even show up in the trailer until well over a minute in. The focus is on the main character and the deuteragonist. The second trailer also focuses on them, but then it throws a confusing bone to the team. Marketing often does not know what to do. There was more to that sentence, and yet the full stop just demanded to be where it is.

This is one of those things that I wish I could explain to lots of people and actually have them listen.

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Stupid Monks Ruin Romance

Title suggested by my hubby.

It’s rather funny to think that I used to be the one who had any knowledge and interest in Chinese cinema. It’s not something I leapt at in recent years, but when I was in high school, I was really into kung fu movies especially, and I still have a VHS copy of The Road Home somewhere. I remember being so into it that I was actually a little disappointed with Crouching Tiger.

But now it’s apparently Hubby’s Thing. This weekend, he woke up with Owen. Owen tends to start getting clingy and screamy when I sleep in, but he’s quiet and lovely for his Didi until I come in. So I kind of put it off. They watch Chinese movies when I sleep in. It is now part of the Thing, I think.

I usually catch the second half, or in this case, the end. There was all kinds of awesome hug fight scenes, and demons vs monks, which is cool. But there’s also a love story and racial politics. A white snake demon fell in love with a human and married him. Hubby described it as, “And now they’re playing house. :)” But the monk who has spent his entire life fighting demons confronts her, accusing her of bewitching the guy. This introduces the idea that love between demons and humans is literally impossible.

The monk tricks the husband into giving the snake demon some kind of holy wine that works like garlic on a vampire, and she is forced into her snake shape while a bunch of monks attack the house. Her husband, terrified by her monstrous shape, stabs her with a “spirit dagger” which removes her ability to take human form. When he learned that this was his wife, and what he had done, he weeps and I wanted to punch the monk in his stupid holy face.

To save his wife / return her to him, the husband steals an herb that looks like UBER GINSENG, but while the herb does help her, its removal from its place also releases centuries’ worth of trapped demons, which promptly possess him.

The monks perform a ritual to save him, but this bloody stupid monk… Ugh. When the white snake demon and her sister come to take back the husband, the monk spouts a bunch of prideful, antagonistic crap that provokes an attack. Oh, culpability, you are fun to discuss.

So the white snake demon floods the temple and its grounds. She is responsible for the deaths. She could have chosen a different course of action.

The monk chose not to be diplomatic. He’s been dealing with demons for forever. He is responsible too. He could have abandoned his pride to forestall the threat that he knew she would carry out.

It’s like children and adults. An adult is always more responsible than a child, and often more culpable. If a child known to kick the dog threatens to kick the dog, and an adult says, “Of course you will, you’re a brat,” he can’t exactly stand on the high ground when the dog gets kicked.

A lot of the fallout from the moment he decides to not just leave the happy couple alone is the monk’s fault. But that flood… oh that is just effing self-evident.

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The Second One

I probably should have waited to write about this while reading my planned glut of “Book 2″s but oh well. It applies more to movies, anyway. Also, spoilers for The Hunger Games series. I think most people have read it, since I was one of the last hold-outs.

When I was growing up, we had a fair amount of trilogies. (nothing remotely like today) While talking about Star Wars and a few others, we realised that the second one is either darker than the other two, or the worst of the three. Sometimes both, especially if you think dark is bad.

The first posit makes sense. The first film is usually establishing and tends to end on a happy note.

  • A New Hope establishes the characters, world, and conflict, and ends with a needed victory.
  • The Hunger Games establishes Katniss, the games, and ends with her winning. In the latter case, the victory is tainted by problems that were expanded on in later books, but it’s still a sunnier ending than the second book.

The second film builds tension and is usually the hotbed for character death and failure.

  • Empire Strikes Back furthers character development and ends with one hero removed, one injured, and the others badly shaken.
  • Catching Fire pretty much repeats the first book with a more dismal tone, and ends with Katniss half-dead and Peeta probably dead and definitely captured.

And the third, final film resolves the conflict and usually ends happily. No examples, I’ve made my point.

Since that makes sense, what about the second one often being the worst in regards to quality? Some series even degrade the further they get from the first instalment. (Assassin’s Creed *cough*)

As most writers will tell you, writing the second book is not easier than the first. Often, it’s harder. Unless you planned the series out at the beginning, and managed to easily accommodate any major changes made while writing the first book, it may even seem impossible to start. Of course, a task’s difficulty is not a license to half-ass things. But it’s at least understandable.

This doesn’t always happen, of course. Sometimes the second book is better. Sometimes none of the books are any good. But there are so many trilogies around that it bears thinking about.

Not long ago, I read the second book of The Chattan Curse series first, and today I started reading the first. It took me a second to realise how the books would tie together, and I was glad to know I wouldn’t be reading the failed romance that started the curse. That is a prologue, really. The premise. I wonder if all books that can be read in any order are more or less exempt from the second book being darkest or worst?

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Not Looking Forward to the Movie Anymore

This is a little complicated. A while back, I discovered Adam Rex’s art (through Dan Dos Santos, I think) and fell in art-love. He is effing awesome. Then I found out he also writes books and I had a fully developed man crush. This is a guy who promoted his book series about evil corporations and breakfast cereal by wearing a bunny suit.

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich is one of my favourite children’s books. I like it even more than Flat Stanley, and Flat Stanley affected me to the point that I made my mum take the bulletin board off my wall.

I started reading The True Meaning of Smekday when I was in the hospital after Owen was born. I didn’t finish it, and true to form, I kept letting it slide down my reading queue. But it stayed in easy reach, and I talked to people about what I had read of it. For a while, it’s sort of enjoyed a vague yet constant love.

It’s funny when you love a book without having read it. For example, I may never read Cake, A Fairy Tale but I love it for its title. This kind of book love is valid, though not as fulfilling as the love one might have for say, Redwall. It is literally impossible for me to know how many times I have read that book. I nearly destroyed a paperback with re-reading (I am currently on my third copy). I got the audiobook from the library and changed tapes in an unending cycle. There was no such thing as a last tape, because I popped the first one in directly after the last had ended.

So yeah. Every type of book love is extremely valid. Some just have much more impact.

And loving a book can make one protective of it. I don’t mean protective of criticism (which is usually just because someone can’t separate criticism of a thing they like from criticism of him/herself). I mean protective of pending and released adaptations.

The True Meaning of Smekday has had a shit time of it. In the transition from book to movie, it has been delayed multiple times, renamed until it’s not only unrecognisable but requires clunky manoeuvring to search for on the Internet, and picked and nicked at for seemingly minor details that seriously matter.

It was called Happy Smekday, which I thought was pretty good. Now it’s called Home, which is just… I really hate it. I don’t care if Adam Rex himself likes it. It’s a terrible title. You have to know who’s making it because typing “home movie” is not going to cut it in a search. (trying it actually broke my internet….)

The trailers. ARGH. When I searched for them around THE ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE, I couldn’t even find one. Then the other day, I thought, I wonder if that wasn’t just scrapped, so I looked. The trailers are AWFUL. One of them is clearly trying to play on the popularity of the Minions. Boov are so not Minions. That is like saying that going to the zoo is like playing Pokemon.

And the minor details. Like names. I guess I understand why they would change J Lo to Oh, and the scene explaining the name was actually funny. But names are important. And the name was the first thing I ever heard about this book. A post on Adam Rex’s blog had some drawings of J Lo and the name. It’s why I bought the book in the first place. And Gratuity just being Tip bothered me a lot. I don’t care if someone else thinks it’s potato rage.

“So,” Said the Boov, wiggling his legs, “what have I to call you?”

I thought a moment. He wasn’t calling me Tip. Only friends called me Tip.

“Gratuity,” I answered.

The Boov invaded Earth. They erased landmarks with their scary Dalek-esque weapons. People disappeared along with the landmarks. When humans fought back, their weapons were destroyed and world leaders were threatened with certain death. People were ousted from their homes and then forced to relocate the whole of the United States of America’s population to Florida. Right before running into J Lo, Gratuity was shot at by another Boov.

This is  just in the first 60 or so pages of the book. I know you’re not supposed to trust trailers, but I’m afraid that the beginning of this movie is going to suck.