Thursday, May 25, 2017

to the edge of within

"What a wondrous vision "Excalibur is! And what a mess." So begins Roger Ebert's review of Excalibur, and as usual, Roger says it pretty well. "This wildly ambitious retellings of the legend of King Arthur is a haunting and violent version of the Dark Ages and the heroic figures who (we dream) populated them," he continues. "But it's rough going for anyone determined to be sure what is happening from scene to scene." The problem with Excalibur, though, is not that it's particularly confusing. It is just so damn full of, well, pieces of every story about King Arthur that any of its audience are likely to know. There's a reason that The Sword in the Stone offers up next to nothing (though, admittedly, I might be remembering the better part of the film if not the larger part of it) about Arthur as an adult and spent time with that training. There's a reason that the recent King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was born out of a plan to make "a [Guy] Ritchie-led retellings of Arthurian legend spread across six whole films", according to A.V. Club, 27 January 2014. There's a reason why Arthurian legend fills book after book after book (and folks keep trying to make films of it). Arthurian legend is huge.

Camelot had the sense to focus on the romance. I barely remember if any of the Knights other than Lancelot even had names in that version of the story. King Arthur attempted to embed a sort of slice of the story, that might have inspired larger legends, into historical context. Legend of the Sword tries to offer up the origin story, a lead up the the crowning of the king, but with some more modern tropes thrown in (like Jax Teller was reincarnated in the past when he puts his arms out on that motorcycle, and his spirit got sent back in time to... Well, I guess it was the Dark Ages but Legend of the Sword makes less effort to put its film into a historical context, and I'm pretty sure it made no mention at all of Britons.

Excalibur, though--it just tried to put everything in. You've got Merlin, you've got Lancelot and Guenevere, you've got Arthur and Morgana, you've got Mordred. And, that's already everybody of import from Camelot. Throw in Perceval and Kay and Gawain and Uther and Leondegrance and Lot and Ector. And, numerous background Knights. You've got the sword in the stone bit, you've got Lancelot and Guenevere getting together, you've got the quest for the Holy Grail, plus Morgana raising Mordred to take on Arthur. To fit all of this in, you've got Gawain randomly accusing Lancelot and Guenevere of being together well before they have actually done anything but demure glances back and forth, because how else do you introduce a plot but have a third party accuse it of already happening? You've got the "waste land" phase of Camelot, or generally "the land", with Arthur himself in the role of Fisher King. Or, as Roger puts it, "Arthur is courageous in his youth, but then presides over the disintegration of the Round Table, for no apparent reason." Just one example, of what he calls, characters being "doomed to their behavior." This is a problem in any film, of course, but maybe moreso with fantasy films, because characters have their archetypes and must fit them regardless of how events should realistically transpire.

Similarly, modern fantasy like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has some problems simply because so many films must be tied together, different directors with different scripts must produce films that still feel pretty close to one another. I've wanted to spend time with the Marvel movies in this blog, but a) those films are not readily available on any of the platforms I've got access to (at least not without extra rental fees) and b) there is way too much room to get bogged down in serious nerditry beyond just film there and that path could be dangerous. But, consider the alternative in episodic television; The X-Files comes to mind. Take an episode like "X-Cops" and compare it to say "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" or "War of the Coprophages compared to "Duane Barry". You can get very different tones, different styles, but you can still feel that it is the same universe, the same show, and the same characters fit. There is room for far more variety in the MCU, and if Warner Brothers actually produced a 6-film series of King Arthur films, there is room for that much story, and room for different directors offering different takes on the pieces. Ritchie could do his slightly modern crime story, but then another director could come in to really do some of the romance of Lancelot and Guenevere justice, and another could deal with the Holy Grail and another Morgana and Mordred. Make the parts feel more separate while keeping them linked. But, don't be afraid to do really different stuff. And, even if the only thing that ties them all together is a strange green glow somewhere in every scene (like in Excalibur), at least we know they tried.



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

and all for this lunacy

Still 1981, but no James Bond today. Instead, we return to King Arthur. Excalibur. Now, I saw For Your Eyes Only in the theater, I'm fairly sure, and many times after on video. I do not actually remember the first time I watched Excalibur. I imagine it was on some Sunday afternoon on television, maybe a few years later. By the time I saw, it already knew about Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Sometime in the mid to late eighties (I think I lost my old collection of theater programs in one move or another, so I cannot check the exact date) I also saw the musical Camelot on stage several times. I'd read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and, presumably, other books about Arthur. I'd seen The Sword in the Stone on video (or would soon). So much of my knowledge about Arthuriana comes from vague memories that blend together over a few decades.

Movies are like that, too. I forget what some movies are sometimes, or imagine movies that never existed. (And, no, I don't mean Shazam.) There was this one movie, for example, that I saw the end of one time on television when I was young that I was sure was Friday the 13th. I had not seen any of those films yet. Wouldn't really see them until Jason Takes Manhattan was in theaters. Then, I would make up for lost time by watching the entire series many times. But, I had this vague notion of Jason Voorhees who, like Michael Myers with whom I was familiar, killed people and kept returning from the dead. I remember being both confused and amused by the idea that there was A Final Chapter and A New Beginning, as if someone really thought the series was ending, and then someone else just came along and laughed. Or maybe I invented that memory, just another of many, many visits to the Wherehouse blurred together, twisted up with memories of movies you've never heard of. The 1980s, the heyday of home video, when too many production companies were making too many films and my mother would rent just about anything, and she'd let me watch just about any of it. Saw a good chunk of Summer Lovers long before I had any clue what was going on in that film. Learned the sex didn't have to be missionary from Scream for Help a couple years later. Saw more horror films than I can count or remember. (I still think there are numerous films that haven't made it onto my seen it list on IMDb just because I can't remember the titles, or the memory of one film blends into another, or one moment stands out but the plot is lost to me. Like the "Nerak" bit in The Watcher in the Woods--couldn't tell you anything of the plot of that one, except that for some reason someone named Karen had her name reversed and someone got married; I remember "Going to the Chapel" playing... Or maybe that was some other film.

But, I was talking about films I think I've invented. Or spent years without the internet trying to find. Like A Zed & Two Noughts. I wandered into a screening of that one when I was at USC. I missed the beginning and never got the title. Twin zoologists film time-lapse decay of animals over and over, and have an odd relationship with some woman recovering from a car accident. And, in the end... No, I won't SPOIL it. But, trust me, I remembered especially certain visuals of that film and for years I had no idea what it was. When I got new editions of Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, and later also Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever, I would pore over each page, read description after description, highlight each movie that I had seen-- Yes I was that obsessive that long ago. This kind of cinematically-obsessed madness does not just happen overnight. And, I guess I just missed the description for A Zed & Two Noughts or thought I had conflated it with Dead Ringers or some other twin movie. Then, one day, in the age of the internet, I threw some search terms into Dogpile (Google didn't exist yet), and found the film, and it was both as if a weight had been lifted and entirely anticlimactic. One of the holy grails of my cinematic history had been found. But an older one still remained (and new ones would rear their heads).

The Friday the 13th one--I always imagined what I watched was the end of the first Friday the 13th because, for some reason, though I had not seen the films of that franchise yet, I knew that Jason was only the killer after the first one. And, I saw a guy walk up out of a lake, and maybe he had a mask on, or maybe I've invented a mask by re-remembering the scene time and time again. He was definitely a killer. He was definitely dead but supernaturally arisen. And, he walked up out of a lake and credits rolled and it would be years before I knew that was not the end of Friday the 13th.

 

 

 

 

 

This is when I both neglected to say anything about Excalibur and got distracted enough by it to forget my rant about movies and memory. I guess the green glow of Arthur's sword works on me, too.


(And, I'll have to watch this movie more than once.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

farewell mr. bond, but not goodbye

Roger Moore died today. Last night, a bunch of people died in Manchester. I'd rather think about the former than the latter. So, I'm watching For Your Eyes Only. I grew up on this movie. Roger Moore was my James Bond. This one, Octopussy, A View to a Kill--I've seen these movies far too many times considering I never made a deliberate effort to watch them repeatedly (as I obviously have with other films). For Your Eyes Only, especially. It was on one of those first VHS tapes my family had. It was one of the movies we watched regularly.

It has been a while since I last watched it, though. This very 80s (or really, 70s) music as Bond goes after Blofeld (who I never really had much context for when I was a kid and we'd watch this; he was just some bald guy who randomly tried to kill Bond and then Bond murdered him, and that alone is also so very 80s. Then the music video opening credits with vaguely naked women dancing in silhouette. (Visuals that meant very different things as I got older, of course.) Of course, Bond has always been of his time, depending on when the particular film was made, when the particular actor was cast. 1980s Bond was over-the-top, deliberately and explicitly. His Bond gadgets were insane; a miniature jet plane hidden behind a fake horse's ass, for Cold War's sake. Rambo might've had his explosive arrowheads (a few year's after this particular film) but Bond has a car that explodes rather than be broken into and... actually, I'm not remembering too many weird devices in this one.

And, he's a womanizer, he drives like a crazy person, and risks his life at every turn. Plus one liners. He's quintessential 1980s. And, the plot is almost immediately complicated.

And, I'm just going to watch for a bit.

 

 

 

 

 

The sound effects stand out, just cliched gunshots and ricochets, and that divebombing plane sound... It's basically what no action movie should ever be. But in 1981, and I first see this thing when I'm five, oh how this movie works.

Plotwise, like any Bond film, it is all over the place. But, that is what Bond films do. And as a kid, sitting down for more than an hour and a half, that's kind of what you need. Star Wars works because it jumps from location to location, setpiece to setpiece, introduces characters, kills them, introduces more. Throw in a session or two of offscreen sex with different partners, some complex Cold War politics and spy machinations, and you've got a Bond film. The only reason, I'm pretty sure, that I can remember which sequences (like the skiing) are in which film is because I've seen these few Bond films so many times. Specific sequences were in the Dalton Bond films or the Brosnan Bond films, and I'm not so knowledgable. Didn't have those on regular repeat. (Same goes for Connery Bond films, because I saw those out of their context.)

 

 

 

 

 

Bond is such the ideal of cinematic masculinity for the time. Better at everything than anyone. One of the greatest biathletes goes after him and misses his shots and falls on a jump. Bond inadvertently gets into the elevator for the ski jump and of course he can make the jump just fine. He speaks all the local languages. And, all he has to do is be near Bibi and she connives her way into his hotel room to sleep with him.

(Odd plotting sidenote: Bond initially went to Greece because Melina's parents were killed for going after the ATAC device in the sunken ship, but he didn't even bother to look for the device before just heading back to England then to Italy. Somewhere along the way, the film forgot to be clear about him assuming that the exchange of money at the pool was for the device and not for murdering the Havelocks. Seriously, I loved this Cortina action as a kid, and it's still pretty good (though entirely unbelievable), but this sequences bears basically no connection to the earlier part of the film. If the Havelocks' murder meant someone already had the device, Bond didn't really need to go to Greece in the first place.


But, hey, random farmer with cow as Bond jumps over a small house, and chickens inside of course as Erich Kriegler crashes through it. So, who cares if the plot makes sense (or if anyone ever bothered to make sure that it made sense)?

Really, though, now Bond wants Melina's father's notes? So, the device has not been found (I remember the underwater sequence later, of course, but I'm trying to be here in this viewing), and the sequence in Cortina served no purpose. Gotta love Bond films. Like someone in the production had an idea for a skiing sequence, so they just throw it into whatever Bond film is in the works.)

He gambles and wins. He knows local cuisine and wines. Sharks ignore him to eat other people.

 

 

 

 

 

And, he kicks a car down a cliff. Rambo never kicked a car down a cliff. John Matrix never kicked a car down a cliff. John McClane never kicked a car down a cliff.

Best moment watching now--upon entering the sunken St. Georges, Bond, who is the best at everything and even knows about oxygen helium mixes for diving, bumps his head. No dialogue to go with it, of course. I don't think it was scripted. Just whoever was actually in the suit for that shot misjudged how high his helmet was. But, it's nice to see Bond do at least one thing badly.

 

 

 

 

 

I never really knew Roger Moore for much else than his Bond films. I'm not sure he was even that great an actor. But, his Bond films were a fixture of my childhood, and my early experience with film.

Monday, May 22, 2017

these are your people

Permit a sidetrack. Not that there's a clear throughline driving me this month. I wanted to revive this thing and I did, and I've mostly just been winging it. One day at a time. Life is good that way. Make plans, sure. But, it's each day that matters. Do the useful things, the productive things, but also find time for the fun things. Save Buster from choking and light a woman's cigarette...

Not that I want to get into Groundhog Day references right now.

King Arthur is today's film. And, what TV Tropes calls "Cast Calculus" (or more specifically, depending on how this goes, "The Five Man Band" or The Magnificent Seven Samurai"), and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy labels simply as "Seven Samurai." Specifically, because lately I think about way too much in terms of Dungeons and Dragons references (because D&D takes up far too much of my spare time), I noticed as I watched King Arthur last night that Arthur and his Knights play like a D&D party of adventurers... Or the Fellowship of the Ring from the film (and novel) of the same title, for those of you not quite nerdy to know D&D class types. The makeup of a D&D party matters. Same with something like The Magnificent Seven. The original western version of that story--I'm less familiar with Seven Samurai, sorry--had seven types of "Cowboys":

  • Yul Brynner as the leader, a Cajun gunslinger
  • Steve McQueen as a drifter and gambler; the trailer calls him "the dangerous one"
  • Charles Bronson as a professional
  • Robert Vaughn as a veteran gunslinger
  • James Coburn as the knife thrower
  • Brad Dexter as the fortune seeker
  • Hours by Buchholz as a young hothead, the trailer calls him "the violent one"

Updated for the 90s tv show as:

  • Michael Biehn as the leader
  • Eric Close as a bounty hunter
  • Anthony Starke as a gambler and con man
  • Ron Perlman as a preacher, and former gunslinger
  • Rick Worthy as a knife thrower, and former slave
  • Andrew Kavovit as the young hothead
  • Dale Midkiff as... I actually don't quite remember other than him being funny

And, for the recent feature remake (directed by Antoine Fuqua who also directed this version of King Arthur):

  • Denzel Washington as the leader, a warrant officer
  • Chris Pratt as a gambler
  • Ethan Hawke as the veteran sharpshooter
  • Vincent D'Onofrio as the mountain man, who is also religious
  • Byung-hun Lee as the knife thrower
  • Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as an outlaw
  • Martin Sensmeier as a Comanche warrior

Note the repeat characters. You've got to have one who is the gambler; one who throws knives; one who is an older, possibly haunted veteran; one who is younger; one who is or was aligned with the law; one who is on the other side of the law. Archetypes within the Western framework, but they work for Samurai or pre-medieval Knights as well. (And, various films, fantasy, western, medieval, modern superhero, can mix and match types, recombine and have variants.) The audience needs its shorthand to keep the characters separate in their heads.


Here, we've got:

  • Clive Owen as Arthur, the leader and the lawfully aligned one, who is also the religious one, the "Paladin"
  • Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, who judging by his dual wielding, two weapon fighting, is probably a "Fighter" if this were to be a D&D party
  • Mads Mikkelsen as Tristan, who here presents almost like a samurai when he steps into the opening battle, and later is the guy with the hawk. In terms of D&D classes, with the latest edition, there's no samurai as such, so maybe he's multiclassing in monk and ranger
  • Joel Edgerton as Gawain, who is hard to pin down in terms of "class" (One almost might expect him to be the one to get killed instead of Dagonet or Lancelot or Tristan)
  • Hugh Dancy as Galahad, who seems the "Rogue" of the group with his knife throwing
  • Ray Winstone as Bors, who seems quite the "Barbarian" or what TV Tropes calls the Boisterous Bruiser (like Gimli from the Fellowship)
  • Ray Stevenson as Dagonet, who also seems a "Barbarian," specifically with the Tavern Brawler feat

plus

  • Kiera Knightley as Guinevere, who is definitely something of a "Ranger"
  • Stephen Dillane as Merlin, who despite the absence of magic, seems the equivalent of, well, maybe a "Druid" over a "Wizard"

As far as other "Seven Samurai" details, Galahad seems the young hothead, Dagonet the haunted veteran (though they have all been fighting the same 15 years).

The point is not matching all of these things across stories and sequels exactly. But, when you've got an ensemble cast, and they are all fighting for the same cause, you need them to have their niches, their reason for being. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow--they each have their role in The Avengers. Even if Hawkeye's role isn't that obvious in the MCU, and Black Widow seems more the token female than particularly useful against alien invaders. Others have broken the Avengers down into D&D classes, but my quick take has Captain America as the Paladin, Iron Man as a Wizard (Artificer), Thor as a Cleric, Hulk as a Barbarian, Hawkeye as Ranger, Black Widow as Rogue. Of course, the point is not whether I'm right in my breakdown, but that such a breakdown is relatively easy to do. The cast calculus at work. Han Solo is the roguish gambler. Luke Skywalker the sorcerer in training, Obi Wan Kenobi a sorcerer... Except the more organized Jedi Order suggest Wizards, while their reliance on swords suggests something else entirely. Chewbacca is the Barbarian, of course. Leia Organa is more of a straight Fighter, but with noble background...

And, I could go on. Willow Rosenberg, for example--is she a Wizard like Rupert Giles, or does she fit the Warlock class more? This is filmmaking (or TV making) for a mass audience; make each character fit into a box. You can have them stretch the shape of that box, or reach outside of it, but you want the audience to be able to peg them down as something specific, something unique. Everything to make it easier for the audience. It doesn't even have to be fighters. Look at Dead Poets Society, for example. Neil is not Todd is not Knox is not Charlie is not Pitts is not Cameron is not Meeks. All schoolboys, but with clear, and clearly established differences. And not just from casting. The script lets you know early on what makes each one of them tick. Otherwise, the characters, and the story, and the plot, get blurry.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

there is a legend

Structure matters, of course. Plot matters. Story matters. And, when we're stuck on origin stories--as with Big Hero 6 or King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, or 2004's King Arthur, which I've got playing now--you're going to get a lot of the same beats. Historical... Or pseudo-historical stuff like this, and you've got a cold open (with Lancelot as a child) that barely matters, you've got hordes of Roman soldiers and... I forget who they're fighting. Don't have time to get to know any just yet. Just a good battle to get the adrenalin pumping.

After some opening text to place the story into some supposed historical context. The far more fantastical King Arthur: Legend of the Sword goes for that same kind of text. We're in the "dark ages" when the landscape of Britain is covered in smoke and/or fog pretty much always, and nothing is ever particularly well lit.


Where Legend of the Sword has no real connection to the actual history of Roman occupation of Britain (or what would become Britain), here Arthur himself is Roman, his "Knights" Sarmatians drafted by the Romans. Their enemies the savage Woads.

 

 

 

 

 

And, at least initially, once we're past that opening battle, the characters (and an interesting cast) have some interesting interactions. I remember this movie being less... Interesting? Good? I don't know. Maybe it gets more inane as it goes.

Separate from what's coming, I have a problem with resting Arthur strictly in the seat of Christianity (especially when his knights are very much not Christian. Plus, in 2004--and you must put any film in its historical context at some point if you're going to spend any time with it--a pro-Christian, anti-savage foreigner film from American filmmakers (even if it is steeped in British legend and filled with British actors), is problematic politically. For me.

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert latches onto the politics; "This new "King Arthur" tells a story with uncanny parallels to current events in Iraq," he writes. "The imperialists from Rome enter England intent on overthrowing the tyrannical Saxons, and find allies in the brave Woads." A quagmire of multiple sides fighting over the same land. Ebert continues:

"You--all of you--were free from your first breath!" Arthur informs his charges and future subjects, anticipating by a millennium or so the notion that all men are born free [Actually, Arthur specifically cites Pelagius, who did talk about free will], and overlooking the detail that his knights have been pressed into involuntary servitude. Later he comes across a Roman torture chamber...

Which just happened as I watch the film. And, separated by more than a decade now from the film's context, it plays less like a topical gesture than as a cheap story beat to force Arthur against the Romans (or Saxons). Not making him Roman in the first place could have made that an easier step, storywise. But, we've got to have an origin story. The film opened with Lancelot as a child, suggesting that this might be his story, and it could have been. King Arthur could have already been in place, and Lancelot introduced into his world. For some reason, many King Arthur films (or Robin Hood films, or Lone Ranger films, or Superman films (barring sequels)) insist on rewriting the beginning of the a story we already know rather than exploring other corners of it.. I mean, when I was in England as a teen, I bought a book about knights, and it included several stories about Knights of the Round Table that had little to no connection back to Arthur. Arthur was more of an idea, an ideal. This story doesn't persist because King Arthur worked his way up from nothing to be great. (That's more of an American style of origin.) Arthur had a destiny. Whether he was trained and protected by Merlin as a child a la The Sword in the Stone or grew up in a brothel a la King Arthur: Legend of the Sword he is fated to become King. This is not supposed to offer up origin stories for Arthur--those are quite simple--rather Arthur's story is supposed to be a sort of origin story for Britain. The more recent Legend of the Sword film neglects this history, offers up no real discussion about Britain or its real-world history. But, this film, despite its American pedigree, tries to deal with that history.

However inaccurately.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

i had a point

One thing about Big Hero 6--the reason the film works well despite whatever flaws it might have--is that its structure is basically textbook feature film.

You've got your small catalyst at 10* minutes in--Hiro meets Tadashi. Dyer (2010) specifies that the small catalyst be something that "happens to the protagonist, and not... an action that the protagonist takes. We've already got the setup of the status quo. Now, we're moving into what will change it. Notably, it was not getting arrested that turns Hiro around. It was seeing that there were better things that he could do with his intelligence (just as his brother suggested). Dyer also suggests that a character should state the theme of the film early on, and there are important lines the clearly set up the plot, all from Tadashi. He asks Hiro, "When are you going to do something with that big brain of yours?" He asks Hiro, "What would mom and dad say?" And, after offering Hiro a ride, he tells him, "I can't stop you going, but I'm not going to let you go on your own."

(Unless specifically described otherwise, assume all times are approximate.)

After meeting Baymax, Hiro meets Callaghan and decides that he wants to go to the "nerd school" with Tadashi and the others. But, structurally, you've got to think about which throughline is the most important: Is the film about Hiro dealing with Tadashi's death? Is it about his conflict with (as it turns out) Callaghan? Is it about his teaming up with Wasabi, Honey Lemon, Go Go, and Fred? Is it about his relationship with Baymax? It's about all four, but in terms of story importance, as opposed to plot importance, I'd say the film is more about Hiro and Baymax. His relationship with Baymax is what allows him to deal with his brother's death. His relationship with Baymax is what allows him to have his conflict with Callaghan. And, his relationship with Baymax is what starts him down the path to being a superhero, that the others join him on later. Arguably, you could put the small catalyst, in a larger sense, into the entire sequence at the school--Hiro meets his future teammates, he meets Baymax, and he meets Callaghan. The only important figure still to meet is Krei (and he's a red herring later so he doesn't need to be introduced here with everyone else).

The inciting incident, which Marshall (2012) describes as "the event that sets everything in motion," has passed. Hiro has met Baymax (and Wasabi and Honey Lemon and Go Go and Fred and Callaghan, but most importantly Baymax).

The large catalyst as Dyer puts it, or just page 17 as Marshall labels it, is next. In Big Hero 6, this is the showcase. Specifically, though, this comes before Hiro goes on stage. Important note: depending on how the script described the initial bot fight, the literal page 17 might have come during or just after Hiro's presentation instead of just before. But, on screen, page 17 means 17 minutes in. And, the way I look at the movie--keep in mind I'm a bleeding heart liberal who is into social justice and cares far more about story and character than plot--the emotional beats matter more than the plot points. What you get in the film is Hiro gets called to the stage, then Honey Lemon gets everyone together to take a photo, then he goes on stage. The 17-minute mark falls pretty close to the photo, and this matters in my reading because the film is more about Hiro learning 1) to do better things with his big brain and 2) to do things with others so he is not the loner kid who gets into trouble bot fighting, than it is about Hiro fighting Callaghan.

So, then comes plot point 1. Dyer puts this at 25% of the way in, so Big Hero 6 is a little early; the explosion that kills Tadashi happens at about the 23-minute mark. And, the second meeting with Baymax happens a little too late at about the 26-minute mark. Somewhere between these two events is the break between acts. Essentially, act one ends with Tadashi's death and funeral, and act two begins with Hiro's mood being picked up, a little, by Baymax.

Dyer's next structural bit is what he calls pinch one or the twist or the complication. Taking the plot, one could assume this coincides with the initial conflict with Yokai (Callaghan in his mask), but Dyer puts this at 37.5% of the way in, and at 37 minutes 30 seconds, we're past the initial conflict with Callaghan and we are smack dab in the middle of the "drunk" Baymax bit. If you don't already love Baymax, this is the moment where you fall in love with that character. With limited expression, he manages to do a lot in a sequence like this just by pausing in the right place or falling or saying what he isn't supposed to say; "We jumped out a window!" indeed. As I read the film as more of a buddy film about Hiro and Baymax than anything else, this sequence is vital because their story takes a turn here. Because of Baymax's injuries, because reporting to the police accomplished nothing, Hiro sets out to make armour for Baymax. It is also at the end of the "drunk" Baymax bit that Hiro decides that whoever has his micro bots is the man responsible for Tadashi's death. Then, we come to the mid-point. Dyer calls the "point of no return." It is almost exactly 50 minutes in that Hiro et al go into the water in Wasabi's car. This culmination of the car chase that ends Hiro's second battle with Callaghan leads directly into the group going to Fred's house, which leads directly into them donning special outfits and weapons and becoming superheroes. Marshall separates out Act 2a from Act 2b, and the division comes when the protagoniss) "stop 'reacting' and take control of the situation." It is their defeat here by Callaghan that drives them together and drives them to become Big Hero 6. Additionally, if you think about the film from Callaghan's perspective, this is definitely his point of no return. He leaves them all to die. He has committed to being a supervillain.

Next, per Dyer, is pinch two, "a major plot event that pushes the protagonist in a new direction, usually because of the revelation of new information." He puts this at 62.5% of the way in. At about that many minutes in, Big Hero 6 land, in their new outfits, on Akuma Island where they will first learn about the Silent Sparrow experiment and then fight Callaghan together and learn that their person they're fighting is Callaghan. This is the perfect example of what Dyer is talking about.

Marshall talks about the beginning of the third act as "[r]eality return[ing]... When your protagonist's false victory is immediately undone by a huge setback." This description fits to a T the defeat of Callaghan on Akuma Island, following by the revelation of his identity, and him getting way. But, structurally, this is too early to divide act two from act three. But, take my reading of the film, the story of Hiro and Baymax, and what you get for plot point 2, 75% of the way in according to Dyer, is another scene between Hiro and Baymax in Hiro's room. This is when Baymax shows Hiro, "Tadashi is here." Video clips of Tadashi testing Baymax. And, the cliched bit where Hiro collapses into Baymax, beating on his chest, "Tadashi is gone!" Dyer specifies that plot point 2 should be "the worst thing that could possibly occur in the protagonist's pursuit of his external goal." Now, plotwise, Hiro's external goal is going after whoever killed Tadashi. Discovering that it was Callaghan is the worst thing. But, emotionally, Hiro's breakdown after turning Baymax to "destroy" mode is the bigger moment. Of course, this sort of breakdown is not precise, so the actual division could fall in between. Personally, I think it is Hiro's moment of acceptance, his "Thank you, Baymax," that makes him able to go on, able to face Callaghan without getting too emotional or reckless. It is what makes him able to go into the portal to save Callaghan's daughter, what makes him able to tell Baymax that he satisfied with his care.

Stuff gets more obvious once you're into act three. Buildup to the climax, then resolution and aftermath. The plot is resolved when Callaghan is defeated, but then you've got Hiro going into the portal, Baymax sacrificing himself. And, you've got Baymax being reborn. So much after the "plot" has ended. Because, this isn't about Hiro getting revenge. This isn't about him beating Callaghan. It is about Hiro accepting loss. It is about Hiro accepting other people in his life rather than going out on his own.

And, potential cultural appropriation aside, textbook plotting aside, cliched moments aside, the film works because the focus is on that story rather than the plot.


WORKS CITED

Dyer, P. (2010, October 19). Screenplay Structure. Doctor My Script [Weblog]. http://www.doctormyscript.com/2010/10/screenplay-structure.html

Marshall, N. (2012). Screenplay Structure: Three Acts & Five Points. Script Frenzy. --apparently, not online anymore--

Friday, May 19, 2017

what do you believe in?

We interrupt your regularly scheduled social justice warrior vs Big Hero 6 blog post for an interlude. See, today I saw Alien: Covenant in the theater and I feel the need to defend it. I also felt the need to defend King Arthur: Legend of the Sword last week but never quite got to it because my intention to watch 2004's King Arthur to stay on topic got a little sidetracked by obituaries and slinkies and The Fifth Element and Big Hero 6. And the latter got a little... heavy? A little full of itself--my discussion of it, I mean. Not that such an approach is something new for me. As I told my students today (specifically regarding fairy tales and our breakdown of the meaning of "Little Red Riding Hood" but it can be cross applied quite readily to breaking down film), finding the flaws in something doesn't make it bad. Sometimes it can even make it more enjoyable. I mean, look where you're reading this--The Groundhog Day Project. Watched that one over 400 times now. Got into its weaknesses, both real and imagined (trust me, I've imagined a lot). Got into its strengths. Got into its interpretations. And, it is still worth watching for me. It is still enjoyable. (In fact, though I am not able to make it to New York to see the stage version live, its soundtrack has offered up new imaginings, new interpretations, and is probably one of the reasons I went ahead with reviving this blog as I did a few weeks ago.) I am looking forward to watching it again in a couple weeks. See, for me, it's like a relationship. Not that I'm an expert on doing those at all well. Spend time with a film and you get to know it better. You see its weaknesses and its strengths. You see it, warts and all, and if you can still love it... Well, then you are blessed, I suppose. Or, I am. Because I do that all the damn time. Like today, watching Alien: Covenant, I latched onto some flaws, then looked past them because the film worked. I got home (several hours later, after some work), and saw some ridiculous reviews on IMDb--if the message boards still existed there, I might've had some fun--the worst being the people who complain that characters make stupid decisions. I have no problem with that. Seriously, I have no fucking issue with characters making dumb decisions. As long as a) it feels like the character(s) might make such decisions, and b) it doesn't feel like the scriptwriter was 1) cheating to manipulate the film into a corner or 2) making stupid decisions himself. Characters do not have to make the right decisions. As long as their decisions fit their characterization... For example, in Alien: Covenant, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) makes a series of stupid decisions in the middle of the film, but at that point, the film has already showed us that he is not the best at being in charge, and he is a religious man in a universe where, quite literally, belief in Christ as divine is misplaced (though that detail from Prometheus was left on the cutting room floor). One of the few explicitly competent characters is Tennessee (Danny McBride) and aside from flirting with bad choices when his wife is in danger he remains quite competent. The more explicit scripting problem with dumb decisions that was evident in Prometheus--the biologist being the one to immediately get to close to the potentially dangerous creature, the map maker getting lost after he has specifically been mapping the ship--is not as evident here. The bigger issue is actually a bit like one of the problems with Big Hero 6--the film doesn't take much time to give most of its characters depth. I mean, Demian Bichir was nominated for a frickin' Oscar just a handful of years ago--for a movie that most people didn't even see, mind you--and he's relegated to being one of the slasher-film-segment-of-the-Alien-film victims. The aforementioned Crudup plays a too-easily-trusting doofus pretty well. Michael Fassbender gets to play two different androids and, while a certain twist regarding them in the third act is rather obvious, he makes them unique and interesting. Like with Big Hero 6, there are some plotting issues, mostly in that the beats are a bit played, obvious, Hollywood cliches. But, as I said yesterday, I try to measure a film based on its own intentions. Not some idealized version of what I had hoped it would be. (That sort of measurement happens in my head, of course, but I try my best to move past it. I do not always succeed, of course.) Watch a film. Enjoy it for what it is. Then pick it apart best I can (whether in my head or in a rant on the Internet). But, picking it apart, tearing it down, doesn't mean I don't like it.

Except for Pretty Woman. That film can fuck right off.