YouTube Martial Arts Theatre- Wheels on Meals

Legend has it that when the head of Golden Harvest productions heard that they were about to release a movie entitled Meals on Wheels, he refused to let them use the title. It wasn’t that he was afraid of someone suing him- he was afraid of losing money! You see, the previous two big Golden Harvest releases had both had English titles that started with the letter “M”, so he was sure this one was going to fail too if they used that title. Talk about superstitious!

So instead, they flipped it around to the pretty much nonsensical title of Wheels on Meals, and released what would go on to become a martial arts classic. Which in itself is a bit of a surprise, because it’s actually not really a martial arts movie at all! It’s actually a comedy with a strong martial arts element, but the fighting in it (especially the end fight) is so well done that it became known as one of the must-see martial arts films of its time anyways.

The plot is simple- a couple of Chinese (a young Jackie Chan and his buddy Yuen Biao) who run a food truck in 1980’s Barcelona, Spain find themselves involved with a beautiful and charming Spanish street thief who is being hunted by a group of mysterious men. She’s also be tracked by a bumbling private detective (played by Sammo Hung, who is also the director), and this all comes together as they try to solve the mystery of why this girl is so popular with all the wrong people.

The movie is from 1984, and is a total 80’s flashback highlighted by the visuals of Barcelona and the fashions of the times. The movie flows a bit awkward at times (normal for 80’s Hong Kong films), and the comedy is hit or miss, but it’s so light and generally fun that you can forgive it for its flaws. I definitely recommend giving it a watch, and this particular copy has good sound (a decent dub too) and good picture quality as well, so sit back and enjoy!

 

Godzilla 2014

My first Godzilla movie was Godzilla vs. Megalon. I was seven, and caught it while turning the dial one way on the 13” TV we had. There, on that small screen, was the biggest, coolest monster that I’d ever seen, and even seeing him in those modest circumstances didn’t blunt the power of the King of the Monsters.

I was in love.

And it would be a lifelong love affair, one that would see me glued to the TV every Saturday afternoon when Superhost or Channel 43’s Weekend Movie would run one of a dozen Godzilla films or anything else that had a giant monster in it. Godzilla was as important a part of my childhood as Star Trek, Star Wars, or Spiderman, and to call him one of my idols wouldn’t be an exaggeration. I even created a crude stick-figure comic about a guy who could transform into Godzilla and battle evil monsters to save the world. (Little did I know guys turning into monstrous superheroes was a Japanese standard even then, and I never got to see Ultraman until I was in my twenties.)

So yeah, I was (and am) a Godzilla fan.

As you might expect, I was super excited to finally see a proper American Godzilla film that didn’t star a giant iguana, and was waiting with baited breath for its release in hopes that this would be the giant monster film I’d always wanted to see. After last year’s Pacific Rim, I was especially hopeful based on how well that film had handled Kaiju (even if they sucked at marketing it) and when I saw the Godzilla trailers, any skepticism turned into outright enthusiasm. This was going to be THE Godzilla film (besides the 1953 original), I was sure of it, and wasted no time in rushing to the theatre today to check it out.

So, did it live up to my expectations?

Yes, and no.

I’d argue Godzilla is really two films, and the half which actually stars the King of the Monsters is indeed amazing and a worthy tribute to the name. The problem is, it’s paired with another completely lackluster human story that is right up there with watching paint dry and the clock tick during the last five minutes of class.

(mild spoilers from this point on)

So, here’s the thing. When you write a story, you have this little thing called a Plot Arc. It’s a writing term for the journey your character goes on, and the changes the lead character(s) experience in their lives as they go through that journey. Watching them go on that journey and undergo that change is what makes a story fulfilling and interesting to a viewer. This story can be mental, physical, emotional or spiritual, but it’s essential to making a compelling story that the audience wants to watch.

The problem with the human story in Godzilla is that the Plot Arc of the human characters isn’t an Arc, or a hill, it’s a straight desert road leading from A to B with few gentle curves, much less a hill or even a corner. The human characters are literally just there to stand around and watch events happen, and the only character who is actually trying to go on a personal journey dies about twenty minutes in. I mean they literally kill the only guy with a goal or plot or anything to prove twenty or so minutes into a 123 minute film. After that, the only ones on a journey are the monsters, not the humans.

In theory, the lead character Lt. Ford Brody (yeah, they named the lead after Harrison Ford and Sherriff Brody from JAWS), has a shit tonne of goals and things to deal with. He loses his father (who everyone thought was nuts), he’s trying to get back to his family, he’s trying to rescue his wife, and he has every reason to want that fricken MUTO dead! He’s got so much to prove and do that he could fill a couple films worth of story.

And they do nothing with it. Not a thing.

  • Father dead? (Oh well.)
  • Everyone thought Dad was nut? (Doesn’t matter.)
  • Family? (I guess I’ll get back.)
  • Rescue wife? (He sorta tries to find her, but puts his army stuff first.)
  • Kill the MUTO? (He doesn’t seem to care much either way; he’s pretty much the antithesis of Ahab, actually.)

So instead of a driven lead who’s just trying to get through the worst days of his life, we get a guy who’s so calm he makes the Dalai Lama look like Jim Carey. Seriously, this guy literally just walks through the film, and shows very little emotion or concern. He does what he needs to do in the situations where he needs to do stuff, and then continues on little a little toy robot.

They couldn’t make a more boring lead if they tried, and the actor they have playing him doesn’t add anything to the story. Hell, he makes me long for Shia LaBoef’s character from the Transformer films, and I hated that character, but he at least WANTED something.

Almost (but not quite) every scene in that film with Ford Brody, or his wife, or his kid, was a waste of the audience’s time. He’s like a piece of the plot that just wanders through the film to give us a viewpoint, and he’s so wooden I’m shocked his wife didn’t get splinters during the romantic scenes. Oh, and speaking of his wife, she has no arc or wants either (except to see her husband), nor do any of the other characters. Even Dr. Serizawa isn’t trying to prove anything- he knows about Godzilla, and the MUTOS, and is pretty much there for just narration.

Nobody in this film wants anything, except to stop the monsters, but they stop themselves, and would have done so just fine without the humans lifting a finger. So why exactly are the people there at all?

Here’s the thing. If you removed Ford Brody from 90% of the scenes he’s in, this film wouldn’t change, and might very well improve due to getting to the point faster.That alone tells you how well written the film is.

And this, is why I say there are two films here.

There is an amazing spectacle of a giant monster film with fantastic visuals and exciting action, and there is a leaden weight of a human story about a guy travelling from A to B who just happens to be everywhere where important stuff is going on- just ‘cause he’s the middle of the plot.

I loved the Godzilla half of the film, they did an amazing job of giving Godzilla Delux (as the Japanese are calling him due to his sudden weight gain) real presence, and wish there was more of it. It’s the tacked-on ultra-boring Ford Brody GI Joe story that left me cold. (Hell, he’s even carrying around a GI Joe figure, in case we missed the reference! Subtle, guys!)

3/5 Stars (and only because the Godzilla stuff is so awesome)

If you want to see some fantastic giant monster films, and haven’t see them, go check out the Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera Trilogy from the 1990’s. This film borrowed a lot of its approach to monster stuff from those films, but forgot to import the humanity that made them so endearing. Too bad. Big G will always be my favorite monster, but Gamera sadly has the better films.

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Shooting Indie Style!

ShootingIndieStyleCover
I put together this guide for my students to help them with their film projects in my media class, and now I’m making it available to anyone who wants to get more out of their mobile phone’s video camera. This is a collection of tips and techniques that covers all parts of the film-making process, from planning, to production, and even editing. Of course, it’s not just for mobile phone filmmakers, this book will help any beginner who’s looking to up their game, so if you’re thinking of making a film, check it out!

Available now on Kindle and Smashwords (ePub) for 99 cents!

Rob

The 10 Commandments of No -Budget Filmmaking with Anurag Kashyap

Anurag Kashyap is a Bollywood filmmaker with over 39 credits to his name, and is reputed to be a master of producing high-quality work on the cheap. (He has won 7 film awards, and had 19 nominations, so it’s fair to say he knows what he’s talking about.) He did this short series of talks on no-budget filmmaking for MTV India, and if you’re someone who wants to get into filmmaking and has no money, these are a must watch!

This is the first of the nine clips (they’re missing #10 for whatever reason, which sucks), a playlist with all of them can be found here.

Enjoy!
Rob

Superman vs. Tony Stark

I didn’t come up with this, it’s from Tumblr, but it was so brilliant I had to grab it and share! 🙂

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The Next Star Wars Trilogy

Today, I was talking with my friend Mysterious Pants about the future of the Star Wars movies, and the crazy rumors swirling around what’s coming with them. Things like that they may be doing one movie a year for three years (which I believe), that Clone Wars will be yanked from Cartoon Network after this year (which could happen, given that Disney doesn’t own Cartoon Network),  and that they may bring back Darth Vader (not true, I hope).

He thinks if they bring back Vader, it will be a clone. I suspect something similar, although I was thinking it would be neat if for some reason Vader in the new trilogy is actually Luke Skywalker, who has been forced to take on the role.

But it was when we talked about what we’d like to see for the new movies that things got more interesting. George Lucas has already said they “won’t be bound by the Expanded Universe” (books, comics, etc) that have been produced in the last fifteen years, which I take to mean the period after Return of the Jedi is basically now open to a full reboot. (All that EU stuff is now alternate reality, which may or may not be true in the new movie timeline.)

This creates a lot of possibilities, but Mysterious Pants made an awesome suggestion I’d love to see.

Luke Skywalker, now an older Jedi recluse, discovers that there is a new Sith Armada (or even small Empire) sitting at the edge of the galaxy, and realizes that he needs to create a new order of Jedi to battle them. This is complicated by the fact that the Sith believe the Jedi extinct, and if they know what he’s up to are likely to jump the gun and attack the New Republic. So Luke must go on a quest to find and recruit new Jedi in secret, while avoiding Sith agents (who are also trying to secretly recruit force-users for their army) and prepare them before the enemy arrives.

This introduces a bunch of new characters, our next generation of heroes, and sets in motion a conflict for Skywalker himself- who has a decision to make. With the looming Sith threat, and an army of untrained Jedi who don’t seem ready for battle, will Luke have to make use of the one thing that could even the odds- The Dark Side of the Force?

Of course, the final film would be the Sith Invasion, and we’d end with a spectacular battle between the new order Jedi /New Republic and the returned Sith Empire. The Sith would be beaten back, but still out there, and the Jedi would have to work at rebuilding their order and replacing their losses. Thus setting the stage for future films and stories.

This would of course even lead into a new Jedi Academy series of stories and whatever else they want to do as the Star Wars universe *finally* goes forward into the future.

Sounds good to me!

Rob

Lucasfilm-Disney Merger Reconsidered

When I first heard Disney had acquired Lucasfilm I was like…

I felt like a million nerdly dreams had cried out in agony, and were silenced…

But then, I was like…

Hmmmm…..Y’no…..Maybe….

This might be…

After all, what has Lucas really done with it?

The only good thing Lucas himself actually did was Star Wars: A New Hope. (Which  is really only a step away from being a Tarentino movie if you understand where most of it really comes from.)

Everything else he did pretty much sucked.

The Empire Strikes back was almost 100% other people running Star Wars, and it’s the best of the bunch.

Lucas was behind Return of the Jedi, which is thoroughly mediocre.

The Prequel Trilogy is only noteworthy because it spawned The Clone Wars tv series, which is overall pretty good. (When Lucas hasn’t had input…)

So pretty much, he’s been a mediocre writer/director and a so-so manager who’s made a few lucky decisions.

Disney, on the other hand, is doing a pretty good job at handling both Pixar and Marvel, letting them do what they do best, and staying pretty hands-off. I both like and respect that, and it gives me some hope for what may come next with Star Wars.

They want to do a new movie series, and a new TV series. Which, if they get the right people, might be a fresh start and a new direction for the setting.

My only worry is that they’ll kill The Clone Wars, because it’s on a rival network to their own Disney XD channel. They killed Spectacular Spider-Man (which was also on a rival network) when they acquired Marvel so they could replace it with the horrid Ultimate Spider-Man on their own channel. I can see Clone Wars having a similar fate, although in Clone War’s case I hope they’ll let them actually end it properly instead of just stopping it.

Ahsoka needs to fly off into the galaxy with Lux, and give it a proper happy-ish ending.

So overall, I’m cautiously optimistic, and will wait and see.

Rob

Why don’t I like Heist stories?

So here’s something I’ve been puzzling over.

I like Mystery stories- ones where a clever character tries to puzzle through a challenge and then put all the pieces together to solve a problem. (Murder, Puzzle, whatever.) And you would think that I would like Heist stories (Ocean’s 11, Leverage, Lupin III, etc) just as much, if not more, because they’re just the flipside of mysteries. Heck, they’re even better than mysteries in theory because the characters are hyper-proactive, usually very smart and capable, and everything is working toward a clear goal. It’s a total recipe for successful storytelling!

But, they leave me as cold as the gold they steal.

I don’t hate them. I don’t even dislike them. It’s just on the whole they just hold nearly zero interest for me, and I’m actually puzzled myself as to why. Heck, I’ve even written one or two of them for KFAT over the years (the most obvious being the second season premier of Twin Stars) but when it comes to reading/viewing/listening to other people do them it just doesn’t click.

I can also think of a few recent heist-esque movies I liked, like MI: Ghost Protocol (didn’t like the ones before it, though) and Fast Five wasn’t bad either. (Not great, but fun.) Although I have to think hard to find Heist stories I liked, and these came to mind because they were recent.

Maybe it’s one of those things you either like or you don’t, and I just don’t. Not sure.

Anyone else out there feel the same way?

 

4 Things Science Fiction Needs to Bring Back | Cracked.com

A truly great list that I agree with 100%!

It’s tempting to look around at today’s literary scene, with its Twilight and its Fifty Shades of Grey, and wonder if we shouldn’t just flush the whole goddamn concept of written language down the toilet — maybe start again with some sort of hybrid colorwheel/odor system for communicating thoughts. Strangely, the one genre thriving in the swamp of modern literature seems to be science fiction. It’s kind of appropriate, actually: All of our crazy high technology has made publishing and distributing books about crazy high technology much more approachable and widespread than ever. But even the best works could stand to learn a little something from the past, so here are a few things that I miss about old science fiction, and would like to see come back.

via 4 Things Science Fiction Needs to Bring Back | Cracked.com.

Amazing Spider-Man Lives Up to its Name!

Like most people, when I heard there was a new Spider-Man film my initial reactions were “why?” and “too soon”. I mean, it’s been less than a decade since the Sam Raimi films and I consider Spider-Man a pretty tapped out franchise with all the recent animated series and films.

However, if Sony Pictures didn’t put out a Spider-Man film this year, they lost the rights to the character, so they whipped together a team and rushed this film into production to meet their deadline. (And considering how poorly Sony as a company is doing, they couldn’t afford to lose anything that actually made money!)

And I never thought I’d say it, but- I’m glad they did!

While this is in no way a perfect film, it is an (almost) perfect Spider-Man film. In fact, I’d argue that this may in fact be the best Marvel superhero movie to date, standing easily toe to toe with Iron Man or The Avengers.

And yes, that means I consider it better than the Raimi films with Toby McGuire. Although in this case, I’d say it’s a bit of Apples and Oranges. The Raimi Spider-Man films (or at least the first one) are homages to the 1960’s original comics, and retain that original 1960’s feel to them. They’re very stylized representations of the comic books brought to the screen, and have all the good and bad elements that implies.

This new film (I should say, New Films, since this feels very much like a first part/episode) is an adaption of the character and spirit of Spider-Man to film, and instead of trying to pull from the comics presents a more realistic and natural take on the story. One that not only works, but also frees up the character to be himself.

Andrew Garfield really does portray Peter Parker and Spider-Man like I’ve always imagined he should be. He has the perfect build, the right attitude, and comes across as a very real young man trying to deal with his own issues while also doing the right thing. They even get the Spider-Man banter right, which is something that’s pretty rare, and make it work on screen in a fun and entertaining way.

The performances in the film are all good, with Martin Sheen’s great take on Uncle Ben being a definite standout. I prefered the previous version of Aunt May to Sally Field, but she’s fine in the role. Dennis Leary is a passable Captain Stacey, and Emma Stone turns in a nice performance as Gwen Stacey. No complaints all around.

I also think The Lizard was an excellent choice for the villain of this movie, with hints of Norman Osborne lurking in the background. The Lizard (as shown) is a nice mirror of Spider-Man himself, and as they have similar powers makes a good sparring partner. He’s also a minor enough villain to make the ones that come after him seem more dangerous, but still a major threat.

In fact, the only things I found that raised a false note were pretty minor. I found the portrayal of The Lizard’s goals pretty murky and I didn’t quite like the ending.

(spoilers, skip to after the spoilers if you don’t want to be spoiled)

While The Lizard was chasing Spider-Man around the school, my wife leaned over and asked me “why is he after Peter?” and as I started to answer I realized that I didn’t really know. I knew how he’d found Peter, and I knew they’d already clashed twice, but I didn’t really know WHY the Lizard was there. Was it just revenge?  Was it because of the personal connection? Why was he there?

Also, they didn’t do a very good job of explaining why The Lizard wanted to turn everyone in New York into Lizards either. I know, he wanted to make humanity “better” and this was his crazy way of doing that. But, as it was presented he didn’t seem all that committed to the idea, it felt to me like he was doing it more because it’s what supervillains always do!

I’ll give an example- on the bridge he tracked down evil corporate executive because he was trying in his own way to stop him from using the serum to test on innocent victims. That was a clear, but indirectly presented motivation. But everything after that just became him doing things because he’s The Lizard, and that’s what that character does.

My other minor issue (much more minor) was the ending. If there’s one thing that’s constant, Spider-Man’s life sucks, and that’s part of his character and story. Raimi’s adaption captured that nicely. Here, we get the set-up for that (Peter can’t get together with Gwen), but then the film does a weird 180 and we get his English teacher spouting some B.S. about “all stories are about who you are”, and that promises are often broken.

This completely reeked to me of test audiences. I bet the original movie ended with the previous scene, and test audiences absolutely hated it, so the suits made them go and tack this extra little scene on at the end to show hope for the young lovers.

Nice going, guys. Peter swore on a man’s death that he’d keep hands off the guy’s daughter (which she psychically guesses in perfect detail) and now a week or so after he’s dead that promise is apparently “no big deal”. What an a**hole! Well, there goes most of the heroic side of the character out the window. It’s a typical attempt at a superficially “feel good” ending that actually isn’t good or in character at all. Which is why I say it smelled of being there to satisfy test audiences.

What’s even worse is that Peter is going to look like a super-a**hole when not keeping that promise later results in Gwen getting killed.

They would have been much better to just have Peter feel so guilty over her father’s death that he couldn’t face (or risk) Gwen getting involved in his life. He left Captain Stacey on his own, and he died because of that. More than reason enough for him to walk away from Gwen, and leave things between them troubled and open for the future films. It would be a heck of a lot more heroic than what we get.

(end spoilers)

Despite this, I have to say I really enjoyed this film. I went into it expecting the same-old, and instead found a fun film that presented a great take on one of my favorite superheros. . I really want to dig out some old Essential Spider-Man comics now and give them a read.

And that’s the highest compliment I think I can give it.

Rob