Imagine, if you will (in your best Rod Sterling voice), a precocious four-year-old boy with a wooden crate brimming with toy dinosaurs – the sort with zero points of articulation because it was the 90’s and kids were still capable of using their imaginations, dammit. This boy spent his languid preschool afternoons guiding his motley herd on epic journeys through valley-like ditches, rainforest-esque gardens, wasteland-ish gravel lots, and oceanic sloughs – occasionally by way of the Millennium Falcon. The stakes were always high for this heroic herd and dangers lurked around every shadowy corner – from monstrous plush t-rexes with mint Beanie Baby tags to vicious velociraptors that had been bloodied with a red Sharpie to swarms of oversized bugs from a dollar store bucket to the mighty and terrible cat-god-of-wrath Whyskerssa (whose tender mercies hinged on proportionate blood offerings). These adventures were the sort of masterful works of fiction that village elders recount to wide-eyed youngsters over late-night campfires – noting, of course, that any resemblance their tales may bear to characters or events from The Land Before Time is purely coincidental.
After my last post on the dual power of Character wants and effective introductions in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, somebody made the astute observation that the only protagonists I’ve selected for analysis thus far have been white males.
Well anyway, today we’ll be conducting a breakdown of Detective John McClane in Die Hard.
In my last entry, I introduced this fascinating and radical new series on Effective Protagonists with an examination of Luke Skywalker in the context of the first Star Wars film. In analyzing his hopes, frustrations, uncertainties, conflicts, and growth from angsty farm boy to dapper rebel hero, we determined that it is his innate relatability that makes him an effective character, and until somebody proves me wrong in the comments section (which I moderate like a KGB postal censor) my words shall be taken as gospel.
What is the most integral element of a film? What keeps the viewer wholly invested in what’s unfolding on the screen? What is it that draws us so willingly and eagerly into the cinematic experience and makes us feel like we’re a vital part of the action?
If you answered ‘full-frontal nudity,’ well dear reader… you just might be on to something.
But the correct and more church-friendly answer is ‘Character.’ If one were to consider Story as an architectural structure – perhaps a Greek temple – Character would be one of the two largest and most crucial loadbearing columns alongside Plot. Which of these two columns is more critical in the support of Story’s narrative integrity than the other is a debate for another day, but I’m personally of the persuasion that effective characters can compensate for an ineffective plot more than the opposite (think about it – if we care about an individual well enough, it’s fairly easy to get invested in whatever they’re doing).
There are few things in this world I hold in greater disdain than stupid movies. I’m talking about the action-dependent, spectacle-driven, CGI-saturated, studio-spawned, soul-sapped, Frankenstein’s monster-type movies that dominate the summer cinemascape by pandering to the lowest common denominator. Movies like the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Meg, which both already look more nauseating than a bucket of KFC chicken in a carnival Zipper and so thinly-written to have only used single-sided script paper.
A Ghost Story is the exact opposite of those sort of action-heavy movies. In fact, it’s so far in the opposite direction of those movies that there’s almost no action in it at all – not even simple actions like moving, talking, or facially expressing. That featured image heading my article? That’s a GIF!
Today we’re going to deviate from my usual analyses of Plot and Character and delve into something I seldom have interest in discussing – theme. Thematic analysis has its place, of course – mostly in the hands of arthouse critics who relish the death of the author or sociology students who labour under the delusion that Crash was somehow good – but for myself I’m generally less concerned with the question “What does it mean?” and more interested in the questions “Does it work?” and “Why or why not?”
Then I saw Ingrid Goes West. Obviously too late to include it in my 2017 Top Ten, which is a damn shame because if I had even known this film existed when assembling that list it would have bumped Thor: Ragnorok down into the dishonorable mentions and nestled itself somewhere around sixth place. Beyond merely being a great film and an effective Character tale, Ingrid Goes West deserves attention for having something important to say – something an entire generation of phone-slinging, social media-inundated hashtaggers desperately need to hear.
Recently I took a reprieve from my usual lineup of Schwarzenegger films and Seinfeld reruns to view a movie that I’d slotted on my cinematic hit list years ago but had lacked all conviction to actually sit my ass down and view. That film was 2010’s The Fighter, which stars Mark Wahlberg as a man with a Boston accent and Christian Bale as a person with intense emotional problems and possibly bulimia. Oh, there’s also some boxing in it too, I guess.
I did not love this movie – which apparently puts me in a minority group with less representation than Asian stand-up comedians – but neither did I think it was necessarily bad. I’ll concede it was competently made (until the finale – we’ll get to that), well-acted, and presumably well-written (it can be hard to tell through all that wicked pissa Bostonspeak, yah suh). My immediate problem with The Fighter is that it represents a crossover between two genres that I take greater pains to avoid than personal interactions with the elderly – sports-related movies and dysfunctional family dramas.
When I looked back on 2017 in preparation for this list, I realized I actually liked most of what I saw. Maybe it was a rare quality year for cinema (unlikely), or maybe I’ve just become increasingly scrupulous about the films I choose to view (bang on). Whatever the case, after slotting the eight films I loved enough to purchase on DVD, I found it was a bit of a challenge to sort through the plethora of other films I just sort of liked in a ‘Good 7’ kind of way but don’t harbour much enthusiasm for. This pool of films included The Founder, John Wick 2, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wind River, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and The Meyerowitz Stories, which were all certainly good but not good enough that I’d brand any of them Top Ten material.
Ahh, Christmas time – a festive season of peace, love, and goodwill extended to everyone you spent the rest of the year flipping off. Families congregate under chintzy decorations and pretend to tolerate one another over extravagant feasts, Die Hard loops endlessly on an impulsively-purchased 4K TV, and everyone represses all their inner rage that’s been mountain since the last election and forces some good cheer on a holiday that’s devolved into a cynical capitalistic cash-grab.
Seems like a good a time as any to discuss Mayhem – no, silly reader, not the state of Warner Bros’s accounting department following Justice League’s opening weekend; I’m talking about the new action-horror-comedy extravaganza by world-famous director (reads off cue card) Joe Lynch. Since premiering at Cannes back in May it’s been heralded by critics as Office Space meets The Purge, and since viewing it myself I’d personally add the endorsement ‘on cocaine’ to fully capture its spirit.
Marvel’s latest popcorn-muncher, Thor: Asgardian Rhapsody, premiered this month to critical acclaim, serving audiences a god’s portion of colourful, lighthearted, and (barring a few ‘edgy’ words) family-friendly entertainment and proceeding to earn Disney somewhere in the vicinity of ninety-two zillion dollars.
I wrote that paragraph at the end of October in complete confidence it would prove itself to be true – not because I’m some kind of absurdly intelligent Sherlock-figure who can determine the outcome of any given scenario courtesy of a supercomputer brain coupled with increasingly lazy writing – but because Disney is at the top of its A-game in regards to its Marvel properties and has yet to truly fail.
With something like seventeen bloody installments of the MCU in the can, Disney has all but mastered a formula for bona fide theatrical enjoyability combined with a guaranteed financial return that largely consists of making everything look and feel like Guardians of the Galaxy, and after a glance at their future release schedule it’s evident they’re only gaining momentum. Strap on your seat belts, kids, because we’re going to get nine Marvel movies a year until we’re all rotting in the ground.