What makes a movie great?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What Have We Discovered?


   As pessimistic as I may said at times, I am still a man of aspirations. So when I see an upcoming movie that employs discovery, I am fish on a hook. Perhaps it’s because the prospect of finding something new will make it a story that has never been told before. How could it be an old story if the main element is just being discovered, right? Well, usually they draw you in with this prospect only to then give you a burnt out premise with little regards to the actual discovery.
                I suppose the problem is that the idea of discovery tends to fall under the category of science fiction, for reasons that you can surmise. But it could be incorporated into many other movie genres and be quite successful. Consider something like the exploration of the newly discovered WW2 Japanese mega-sub sunken of the Hawaiian coast. If the airlocks were still intact, who knows what it could hold. The secret is to remain realistic. (As much as possible) No ghosts, no nuclear devices, and no precious metals. (I know I just killed the movie for most.) How about simply proof of a conspiracy by two countries?
            What got me going on this thought was an advertisement for Jurassic Park 4. Of course the movie will contain several big names of Hollywood. That’s actually not a good thing. I prefer new comers to the screen so that the writers have to build a better premise. The only exception is that it must include Sam Neill’s character. (Which it won’t) He’s the dinosaur man for crying out loud! And for me, the only thing that keeps the movie afloat, because (for his character) it is all about understanding the discovery and how you never own it; not about being eaten by the discovery.

                Another movie of discovery is The Last Days onMars. Sure there have been other movies about the exploration of Mars, but it doesn’t necessarily make it sci-fi. With the MARS ONE program propelling promptly forward, we definitively have a timeline for humans to walk the planet. (It’s going to happen people!) Moreover, discovery is inevitable. The actual MARS ONE colony will be beyond our control and imagination. It will be televised as the ultimate reality show. So a film such as The Last Days on Mars comes much closer to documenting that something unknown.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lessons for the Ages

               Nowadays, what was media relevant 5 minutes ago can be old news within a re-tweet. So let’s try to stay ahead of the game and discuss what is yet to hit the theaters. I have recently been perusing the upcoming movie boards and there were, in my opinion, a few must-see films for 2014.
            Undoubtedly, there will be nothing more epic than the upcoming Darren Aronofsky movie  Noah.  Starring Russell Crowe, who cemented his talent for historical drama in Gladiator, the movie follows Noah’s heavenly charge to build an ark in the prelude of the great flood. The film not only seemingly has awe-inspiring special effects, but also contains that all-important quality a feature film should have; life-changing substance. You know it will be up for an Oscar! It opens on March 28th.
             I know that I am side stepping interest tailored movies like 5o Shades of Grey or even the Hobbit movies. It’s not to say there is substance to them, as much as they do not soar to that epic status. Bluntly, those films that find praise and an enduring following are usually dramatic and historical; which are films I myself gravitate to for their lessons upon life. With that, I’d like to include in this post the mention of Stalingrad.  I’ll assume you know the significance of the name, yet not the grandeur of its cinematic display. It’s another excellent illustration of how close we came to a global brink as we sat unattached in America. 

                You will find an endless assortment of candied movie sequels to spoil your appetite upon. Sometimes you just want to be entertained; so do I. Honestly, I’m somewhat excited to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman with my young nephew. I’m sure we’ll both enjoy it. And it may teach a six year old boy a few indirect lessons, but it will just make me smile. So indulge wisely. 

                There are many good movie premises due to arrive over the next year. Some of them are worthy of praise. I encourage you to scan LiveFor Films yourself to find the true treasures. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is it Halloween or is Frightnight?

                 Since its Halloween, I thought we could discuss appropriate movies for the night. Upon researching the opinion of others, I’m shocked forthright by several top ten lists of Best Halloween Movies. Some advice, please bring some crackers because they’re all nothing less than cheesy. I mean, I did expect John Carpenter’s original Halloween to be in the running. But putting Creepshow and Friday the 13th in there is simply pathetic.
                I guess it all depends on what you’re going for, quick scares or quality acting pertaining to the actual day. I won’t go into the feeble scare aspect; you know who you are. Let simply touch upon what I’d consider adeptly relevant; the kind of movie where the plot holds a steady tangible course and the characters are relatable.
                At the top of my list (and what I plan to watch again this very night) is of course, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Not only is Johnny Depp’s performance as Ichabod Crane superb, the movie takes us on an expedition between science and supernatural. It depicts the very spirit of Halloween to a point that even a skeptic of paranormal begins to reassess.
                Even the 1993 Hocus Pocus brings more to the sacrificial table in terms of seasonal quality. The inclusion of its characters humor only adds to the overall realism of its content. It delivers the traditional conjuring of witches on all hallow eve, though they are comically baffled by a modern world. It would be similar to the Addams Family.
                The last one I’ll mention here is 1988’s Lady in White, about a young boy that keeps seeing the ghost of a murdered girl, among many things. I guarantee it will keep at the edge of your seat. My wife goes through a roller coaster of emotions when she watches it, from tears to screams. It centers around Halloween, and the best part, no crackers are needed.

                There are so many decent movies more linked to this day; many are perhaps intended for kids, yet fitting for the entire family. By the way, the best Halloween movie for kids (and many adults) is no doubt It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Charles Shultz touched upon every kid memory of Halloween!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Great..and Powerful

In the wake of so many similar films, I’d like to give advice on what I feel makes a movie worth watching. Foremost, it should be fascinating; even if it’s a horror. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. version of The Thing was a remarkable prequel that experimented with the notions of human trust and isolation.  Just as an actress refrains from nudity unless it is relevant to the storyline, so should blood and gore be limited. Secondly, the film should be enlightening. Why devote your precious time to something that isn’t going to change you. I know people with thousands of dvds in which only one of them is worth watching. My collection can be held in one hand. Movies like The Count of Monte Cristo  or The Time Machine  sensuality has so many moralities that they alter you.  A good film should impulsively change the viewer.
Recently, I again viewed the prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful. This is a film that has not received the acclaim it probably should have, perhaps because older fans were expecting more of Dorothy and younger fans wanted more magic. The fact is, there are many reasons Dorothy (and her Ruby Slippers) cannot be included in the films. Yes, I said films. There will be more coming, all taking place long before any Dorothy arrival. They will center on development of Oz and the three witches, which I find fascinating.
I’m not necessarily stating it was a great movie. However, people just don’t appreciate the small aspects of quality. Admittedly I did not care for James Franco as the Oz or for the comical relief of the Monkey. But these were more than compensated for by the presence of China Girl, who tied directly into concept of inanimate objects in need of something. Still, the small aspects I speak of are in the subtle lines. When the wicked Theodora puts her hand out and the Quadling’s broom floats to her, she says: “It was a broom that you wanted, wasn't it, Wizard?”

Not only was that great acting, but that single line (even though there were others) solidified the entire movie for me. You can’t hold it against someone for giving you what you actually wanted.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What's the Idea?


It’s the idea and not the director that makes the movie. Has anyone notice the apparent decline in the works of Steven Spielberg.  It’s difficult to determine the success of the director by movie gross, simply because values change or the years. I would rather judge the accomplishment by recognition of the movie. According to sources like www.imdb.com Spielberg has won the AFI awards for best picture for the last three years. But as the Hollywood often states, it’s the Oscars that matter. In that category, he hasn't had a win since Saving Private Ryan in 1998. In a 20/20 interview he admitted that his movies were a continuous expression of his childhood ordeals. I think that he has great expression. But perhaps, he should develop a fresh concept to express.

Attesting to the apparent lack of originality is the lengthy list of remakes now in development, which includes everything from Annie to Weird Science.  In the exploratory of their details we tend to find that they are justified by the inclusion of an established director. But it’s no surprise when the Oscar for Best Originality goes to a relatively unknown director. The bottom line is that remakes are dependent upon one factor, fan nostalgia.

I’ll concede that like most things, creativity is highly opinionated. I’ll also admit that I finish with some movies and realize “what was I thinking?” But it’s usually because I was over crediting the talents abilities. First and foremost should be the plot. Is this an idea that still tethers on reality (which even sci-fi can do) yet takes us to a place we've never been; even within. This is a concept that the new movie Gravity promises, but I’m sure will eventually fail at. The best I see coming up would be Divergent.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing for Emotion

As I attempt to write my own screenplay, I of coarse want it to be prosperous. So what is the audience looking for when it comes to movies?  www.movies.com/movie-news provides great insight to such perplexing questions. I believe the best answer is an escape.  Whether its comedy, adventure, or horror, the audience wants to step into a life different from their own. Studies have shown that reasons vary from an adrenaline rush to a self-psychological understanding. The steady success of superhero movies lately attests to the beauty, power, and  clarity that is absent from everyday life. Obviously we as viewers have a need for something.  In a world full of callousness, I believe we simply crave to feel something.


                We live in a fast paced world that contains a lot of critics with a lot of opinions. (Yet another side effect of the Internet.) No matter what you like, someone else is bond to hate it. I’m so particular when it comes to comedy that I would trash 95% of every one ever made. But what’s important here is your own personal escape. We all need some alone time, some time to fulfill what is seemingly missing from our everyday lives. It could be a laugh, an adventure, or a serious moment.

                Yet I would still argue that not just any movie will suffice. A thousand dramas could draw you in with their sappy melancholy love stories, but they probably wouldn't provide the realism of a movie such as Atonement. Its realism because life isn't fair, even with those we trust. It ends and it has great meaning. But it often ends uncomfortably. We feel…and that’s what we’re searching for.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Reality of It All

For years I have privately critiqued the premise and effectiveness of movies. Age has not only sharpened my understanding of film analysis, but also my comprehension of character action. Most movies, however, should just rightfully be labeled fantasy or science fiction. Because they just can’t be real. People do not react that way nor seldom say what their characters say; case in point, any Twilight movie. These notorious sequels are produced without a single coherence to reality. Classics like The Wizard of Oz held more realism. Yet www.edition.cnn.com reports that it has become common for women in their 30s to be devoted fans of series. Has the digital deluge of movies washed away all sense and sensibility?

Of course it could be argued that movies such as the Saw series still make money. Bluntly, they are flavors of the week, entertaining the guileless; destined to be pebbles at the base of a wonder such as The Shining.  Regardless of genre or gross revenues, a film simply should have quality. Follow me as I continue to discuss those aspects that make a great movie.                                            photo courtesy of  www.informatedfw.com