The “One Movie A Week” Challenge

MovieReelOne thing I realized at the beginning of the year was my lack of actual movie watching.  I want to be a professional screenwriter and yet I don’t watch movies?!  

I have a number of excuses, but as with my growing list of things I failed to make time for last year, this falls among them.

So I put myself to the challenge of watching one new movie a week, and so far, I’ve been pretty good about it.  I think I missed the week before Captain Marvel but I did watch The Umbrella Academy.  It doesn’t technically count, I know.  Below, in what I’m trying to remember as the viewing order, is what I’ve watched thus far with a short synopsis and a review.

  1. Arrival: Cool premise – learning to communicate with aliens which results in a greater understanding.  It also presents an interesting question, “If you know how the story ends, do you still take the journey?”  My rating: B-
  2. Ex Machina: Another cool premise – the development of A.I. and its consequences.  It’s a slow moving film, and some of the dialogue is trying too hard to be clever, but in the end I appreciated the story.  My rating: B-
  3. Annihilation: The trailer left much to the imagination, so I was intrigued.  “Alien” object lands on Earth and disrupts the natural world around it.  In an attempt to be female empowering, which, I guess, thanks?, we follow an all woman team into the anomaly.  I felt there was too much lead up to leave the ending so ambiguous.  My rating: C
  4. Ant-Man & The Wasp: There’s a lot to be said about why I almost passed on this movie, but as we’ve all learned, in the MCU, they’re all connected.  With Avengers: Endgame on the horizon, and not wanting to miss any tidbit of information (the quantum realm will be important), I finally gave in, and I was pleasantly surprised, in part because of Wasp not playing sidekick.  At least Marvel is giving the few women it does have both brains and brawn.  My rating: B
  5. Incredibles 2: You just gotta love Pixar.  In a timely fashion, they release a film with a female superhero lead.  And not just any female but a wife and mother of three.  I love the original, and the sequel is nearly as good.  Picking right up where we left off 10 years ago, we get a family film that deals with real issues of supposed gender specific roles and flips them.  My rating: A+
  6. Polar: I love Mads Mikkelsen.  That is all. 🙂  Seriously, I would watch the man “insert mundane task”, so I was excited to see his face while scrolling through the new releases on Netflix.  Based on a comic book, it’s dark, and it has its moments, but it’s not overly satisfying.  Mikkelsen plays an assassin entering retirement in a world that wishes it were more like John Wick’s.  My rating: C-
  7. Ocean’s 8: In an era where films are being unnecessarily remade, despite an all star, all female cast, I wasn’t initially compelled to watch this film because, as I mentioned, it felt unnecessary.  That being said, I adore Cate Blanchett, another actor I would watch “insert another mundane task”, and discovered a fairly clever heist film that desired to capture the magic of the original Oceans 11 and didn’t fall too short.  My rating: B
  8. Coco: Pixar is very good at what it does.  It tells heartwarming (and heart tugging), magical stories that transport us to amazing places.  Coco tells the story of a young boy who desires to be a musician despite his family’s strict anti-music rules, and finds himself in the Land of the Dead seeking validation.  It is a beautiful film to watch, and the heart of the story is quite moving.  My rating: A+
  9. Captain Marvel: Where I failed Ocean’s 8, by not supporting it early on, because as a woman I need to support these movies so they will continue to get made, I couldn’t repeat with Captain Marvel, not after waiting over 10 years for Marvel to finally get it.  Wonder Woman was a huge success and by far DC’s best film, and yet Marvel kept dragging its feet.  And while yes, another piece of the puzzle for the MCU and the final piece before Avengers: Endgame, supporting this Captain was necessary.  And it was a fun time.  Brie Larson’s portrayal was enjoyable to watch, even if the story was not the MCU’s strongest.  My rating: B+

I switched from my star rating system to the old school lettering system…not sure I’ll do that again.  Do you agree with my ratings?  Do you have any suggestions for my next movie?  Do you want to join me in this challenge?  Let’s chat!

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Rambling Review: Valerian

Valerian

I have a soft spot for Luc Besson’s films.  La Femme Nikita was my introduction to his work (thankfully, the intro was a good one), because there’s been the occasional let down, and yet I still get excited when I see his name attached.  Which is why I had high hopes for his latest project, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, aka France’s most expensive movie ever made, by a lot.

There was a lot of press on this film surrounding its release, and I remember Luc being unhappy with the state of the film industry at the time.  Other comic book stories translated to the screen had been dominating the scene, with some of them being overwhelmingly well received, while his comic book tale fell flat.  He felt his movie didn’t get its rightful due, not taking into consideration that maybe his film just wasn’t that good.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful to watch, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) compensate for a lack of story and boring characters.  I mean, when the lifeless portrayal of a shape shifting alien, played by Rihanna is one of the best performances, that’s saying something.  Because the movie is based on a comic series, I’m sure there were other stories to choose from, so I have to wonder, why did he choose this one?

Valerian offered us a glimpse into an amazing world, but the lack of a compelling introduction and the lack of interesting lead characters had me contemplating turning it off within the first 15 minutes, but I believed, and hoped, that sticking it out would lead to a satisfying end.  It did not.

Major Valerian played by Dane DeHaan and his partner Sergeant Laureline played by Cara Delevingne are basically special ops officers sent in to recover sensitive material in an illegal transaction.  They later learn that their mission was part of a cover up of a shameful military commander’s actions from years earlier – the decimation of a planet and its inhabitants.

PearlsKnown as Pearls, these beautiful, androgynous aliens, thought to be primitive because of their simple existence are nearly extinguished during a war they aren’t even a part of.  I think they’re the best part of the entire film.  We soon discover they’re basically geniuses, learning advanced math and science theories and practices in a matter of years not only to survive, but also because they wish to return to their way of life.  But as clichéd villains go, the ol’ commander doesn’t want any reminders of the past.

That’s the plot in a nutshell.

The side story is the uninteresting love connection they’re trying to force on us between the Major and the Sergeant.  There is absolutely no spark between the two leads.  Their performances, for me, were flat and dull.  Valerian, as we learn through a quick recap, is a womanizer, and most likely for sake of the film and in the hopes we’ll root for them, becomes fixated on his partner.  There is absolutely no cause for this other than their close proximity to one another.

Suddenly, he’s proposing, and that dominates nearly every conversation between them the rest of the movie.  Ugh.  And this coming from a romantic.

I was bitter that such a beautiful, overachieving movie would fall so flat, especially in such capable hands – those same hands are responsible for The Professional.  The advances in technology have allowed us unlimited potential in our imaginations in regards to translating that to the screen, and I think that Valerian relied too heavily upon this.  Enamored with their visuals, they forgot that some of us were paying attention to why we were there in the first place – the story.

Ah well, not every time out can be a winner.  Will I continue to support Luc and his visions?  Of course.  But whereas I was disappointed that I didn’t initially see this in theaters, I’ll probably weigh this endeavor against any future films and the feelings of immediacy at seeing it in theaters in way of support.

Twoandhalfstars

What I’ve learned recently is that when my expectations have been high, I’ve been disappointed, like 99% of the time.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by films I had low expectations of, and that’s a sad truth to face, especially in light of the fact that I want to be a part of said industry.

Do you agree or disagree with my take on Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?  Share your thoughts below.

Movies That Inspired Me

I didn’t receive any Writing Prompt submissions this week, and I was playing around with an idea last night, but didn’t actually write anything.  I know.  Besides, my mind was complete rubbish by the time I wanted to write and I was misspelling words or leaving them out altogether.  I decided it best to just write down a few notes about the idea so I wouldn’t lose it by morning.  So for today, I thought I would talk about movies.  I am a screenwriter, and I don’t think I really have as yet…

A friend and I were recently discussing movies, and how different our taste in film is.  If she likes a movie, it’s a guarantee I won’t, so I usually don’t bother once she’s told me she really liked something, and vice versa.  We met in film school, so the basis of our friendship is clearly not founded on our mutual love of the same films.  The funny thing is, she likes my screenwriting, so what does that say?

It got me started thinking about film in general, and those that I like, and have been inspired by.  I once tried to make a top ten list of my favorite films, and ended up with a list of seventeen and that was lumping Disney and Pixar films into two.  I was heavily influenced by Disney princess films, still am. 🙂 And I think the people at Pixar are brilliant, and I sometimes muse at how impressed they are with themselves when I see the most amazing effects in their films; like Sully’s hair blowing in the breeze, or a puff of dust being stirred on one of Andy’s shelves.  Amazing.

The following is a list of a few movies that changed my perception, my writing, or me in no particular order, except maybe when I watched them.

DarkCrystalPosterThe Dark Crystal – Most children I know personally could never watch this film.  I’m not even sure how I was able to.  It’s dark (pun intended) and a little scary, but the cast is entirely made up of puppets.  Most 80s kids are Jim Henson fans, but most of my friends preferred Labyrinth to the Crystal.  Not me.  This is still on my top ten list because of its impact on me when I was a kid.  The idea of a magical world torn apart, the story of an unlikely hero, and the themes of good vs evil, immortality, and sacrifice were all highly effective on my young mind.

PrincessBridePosterThe Princess Bride – I don’t know anyone who does not like this movie.  It’s wonderful.  I would later grow to admire its writer, William Goldman, who also wrote Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, the screenplay for Misery, among many others.  He has a great sense of humor and is one of my favorite writers.  The Princess Bride impacted me in the sense of combining fantasy and reality, or the reality we create.  It is clever, funny, romantic, and full of adventure and swashbuckling, and it is one of the films that would change my storytelling.

BraveheartPosterBraveheart – I saw Braveheart shortly after my first visit to England.  This was the film that got me interested in Medieval times.  The film was gritty and brutal, but it was also romantic, and highlighted the values of honor and loyalty.  As I had already discovered I was an Anglophile, this just further developed my passion for learning its history, but also, that writers have the opportunity to sway perspective.  As writers, we create empathy for our characters.  Unlikeable characters can be given a reason for their traits, and become likeable in the eyes of the viewer depending on how the story is told.  Current example: Malificent.  *I’m not saying she’s unlikeable per say, as she has always been one of my favorite villains.

Sense&SensibiltyPosterSense and Sensibility – This film was my introduction to Jane Austen.  Again, shortly after my first visit to England.  I was immediately obsessed.  I started watching all the film variants of Austen’s work, long before I decided to actually read any of them.  Maybe that’s the difference in being a screenwriter vs an author…?  I have watched this and Pride & Prejudice so many times, that if we are ever trapped on an island, or whatever, I could recite or reenact this for you.  It was this film along with Braveheart that encouraged me to include facets of the time periods into my work.

ElizabethPosterElizabeth – My continuing fascination with English history led me to Elizabeth, and my subsequent adoration of Cate Blanchett, one of my favorite actresses.  I have become completely fascinated with the Tudors and their times because of this film.  The country was torn apart by war, political, and religious issues, so maybe not the best of times, but Elizabeth, a woman (*gasp), became one of the country’s greatest monarchs.  She should never have become queen, but it was her destiny, and even this influenced my writing.  (I could write a great deal about Queen Elizabeth I.)  It was while writing my screenplay entitled, 217, that I discovered my fascination with certain time periods were all separated by roughly 200 years…revelation.  *You can read about it in the Excerpts section.

CrouchingTigerHiddenDragonPosterCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – I have long enjoyed foreign films and this is still one of the best I’ve ever watched.  It combines so many elements I enjoy; unrequited love, history (I’m a sucker for a period piece – can you tell by the list?), fantasy, and women who are not relegated to side/nondescript characters.  It also has beautifully choreographed fight sequences.  All of this further influenced my writing in regards to combining different elements, which is probably why I enjoy writing “fantasy”.  I was driven to watch any and all films that were even remotely related to this style, and I did find Hero with Jet Li, Tony Leung, and Maggie Cheung.  They utilized a wonderful technique of telling the same story from different points of view and changing the color of their clothes and surroundings to highlight the difference.  Lovely.

So how about you?  Which films influenced you?