Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Category Archives: movie

I Have Zootopia Thoughts

Yes, I do.


(Zootropolis is the UK name of the film)

They have mostly been expressed by Other Me over on that Other Blog where I write more about furry/adult stuff, but if you’re interested, here are some links (most of these posts contain spoilers for the movie):

My thoughts about Zootopia and furry fandom leading up to the movie, and reaction after first viewing(s): http://kyellgold.com/wpblog/2016/03/07/so-zootopia-my-thoughts/

My reaction to people who said that Zootopia is “not subtle” in its portrayal of prejudice, and thoughts on the movie’s structure and some of the neat tricks in it:  http://kyellgold.com/wpblog/2016/03/28/zootopia-and-subtlety/

Should Nick and Judy get together?? Also, what’s the deal with romance in movies anyway? http://kyellgold.com/wpblog/2016/03/31/friendship-vs-romance-yes-zootopia-again/

And as a bonus, I talk about the best Disney and Pixar movies and how the heck you would even make a top five list from either studio: http://kyellgold.com/wpblog/2016/04/01/best-disneypixar-movie/

Thoughts on American Sniper

My reaction when I heard the slate of Best Picture nominees was “UGH FINE I will go see American Sniper.” Mark and I try to see all the Best Picture nominees every year, and while some of them are a challenge, we had no excuse for missing this one. It’s going to be in theaters well into February. So last night I bit the bullet (ha ha) and went to see it with a couple friends (Mark, who was working, promised to see it later).

There is probably a very good movie to be made about the life of Chris Kyle, the titular sniper, and it would cover the space between two scenes about 125 minutes into this 134-minute movie. The story of overcoming the impact of spending the better part of a decade in Iraq killing people to come home and adjust to normal life is a fascinating one, and maybe even more so when you’ve become exalted as a hero as Kyle was. To put it another way: most of “American Sniper” should have been the five-minute prologue to the movie about Chris Kyle.

The faults of the movie have been well documented: it’s very loosely based on an autobiography that was factually questionable to begin with (though perhaps not so much about his actual tours in Iraq). It ventures into the comic-bookish realm with an invented villain who might as well be named “Drill-Man” and an enemy sniper who was barely mentioned in Kyle’s account of his own life but who becomes his main foil. It shows a lot of violence–yes, in a movie about the guy credited with more kills than any other sniper in U.S. military history, you expect to see gunshots and violence, but the violence here is fetishized to a disturbing extent. The U.S. involvement in Iraq is painted in broad black and white strokes: Kyle is there to protect “our boys” from the “savages,” and while there are occasionally Iraqis who (reluctantly) help Kyle, the motivation of the people he’s fighting is never explored. Kyle’s wife is introduced as a strong woman who shoots down (sorry) a guy trying to pick her up, only to fall for Kyle’s charms; she spends the rest of the movie begging him to come back to his family.

It is the worst Best Picture nominee I can remember seeing. I’ll give Bradley Cooper credit for his performance; other people have criticized it because his natural charm and exuberance are leashed, but I admire him for being able to slip into another character that way. Technical awards, sure. It’s a beautiful movie in many places and I give them a lot of credit for never losing Cooper among all the similarly uniformed soldiers. The action scenes are filmed tautly and are easy to follow, and the sound is terrific. No, the nomination that bothers me the most is for its dull, mediocre screenplay. Stealing from Mark Harris of Grantland in his review of the Oscar nominations, it is stunning to me that this was nominated over Gillian Flynn’s screenplay for “Gone Girl.” That was a well-written, gripping film (and written by the author of the source material; maybe part of the reason for the snub is that she’s not a career screenwriter, while Jason Hall is at least an actor and has two other screenplays to his name); this was basically a war piece that verged on propaganda, and not even clever propaganda.

So anyway. If you’re an Oscar completist, go ahead and see the movie. Otherwise I don’t think most people reading this blog will care much for it.

Cowboys and Aliens

*cough cough* Wow, the dust in here. It’s been over a year since I posted. There are a number of reasons for that, most not worth going into in a movie review post. But hey, just to catch people up: I am in my fifth week of Clarion, which is awesome in too many ways to describe without its own dedicated post (forthcoming). As a result of Clarion I will be setting up a myname.com site and probably moving this blog there sometime in the next few weeks. Also there will be stories and such so lots of work to do. Fairly warned, be ye, says I.

Clarion bears mentioning because it was with several of my classmates that I saw “Cowboys and Aliens,” and if you have not yet had the chance to see a badly-structured SF movie with a bunch of SF writers, then I highly recommend it.

The trouble actually started, had we known, before the movie. The trailer selection was schizophrenic, including a heist movie (which actually looks fun–Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy and Alan Alda in a Bernie Madoff wish-fulfillment vehicle), a horror movie (disease–“No one is immune–FROM FEAR”), a twenty-something comedy that turns into a horror movie (sharks? really?), a SF war movie (“Battleship.” Christ.), a historical drama/specfic (“Three Musketeers” with cannon-laden airships–actually looks visually awesome), and a Robert Downey Jr. Movie (Sherlock Holmes 2). I asked at one point, “Do they know what movie we’re here to see?” Answer: yes. Yes, they did.

“Cowboys” starts really well. I mean, for the first half or so of the movie we had nothing to say. You all know the plot from the trailers. Daniel Craig wakes up with no memory and an alien gizmo strapped to his wrist, kicks ass. The setup of the town he wanders into is pretty neat too. Paul Dano is more or less wasted as rich entitled kid of cattle magnate Harrison Ford, taking advantage of all the money his dad brings to the town. So, right, redemptive arc for the son? Not so much. Conflict is ramped up when Craig and Dano are to be turned over to the federal marshals, and Ford comes riding in to save his son. He has a beef with Craig, it turns out, which Craig doesn’t remember. Pretty good, right? Decent character conflicts and motivations, a few pretty good actors, a reasonable script to that point.

Then the aliens attack. The attack itself goes on probably about half again as long as it needs to. That early in the film you just want a fast exposure. But the aliens strafe the town approximately seventeen times (by my rough count) before Craig shoots one down. The other aliens get away with a bunch of the townspeople, including Dano (and pretty much ending his role in the movie). Craig is the only one who can shoot them down; Ford must go save his son. An uneasy partnership is born.

Except it isn’t, not really. Craig has no real reason to chase the aliens except the vague memory that someone he cared about is also a kidnap victim, and the bonds of affection he is forming with the townspeople in his essentially new life. There is a powerful story buried there about reform, how a hardened criminal whose past is wiped away might be able to start anew and be a good person, but that is only one of the dozen or so stories the filmmakers were attempting to explore.

From about that point, things rapidly spiral into incoherence. There are outlaws, cringe-inducingly stereotyped native Americans (both the war-whooping and mystically spiritual kind). There is a Mysterious Plot-Advancing Woman. There is a gang of outlaws who might have made Craig question his current path if they were anything more than buffoonish stereotypes themselves. There is a surrogate son–actually there are like three of them by the end of the movie, four if you include the dog who was apparently in the movie because hey, one of the people had a dog and he can sit on command and look cute. There are three dying-in-someone’s-arms death scenes which would be tear-jerking if any of the dying people had enough character for the audience to latch onto. There are aliens, of course, and there are at least three moments where the “alien jumping out at you” is telegraphed so loudly that I was counting off the beats on my fingers. There is alien technology that works according to Plot Necessity (one of my classmates leaned over and said “You know who’s really bad at using the alien super-weapon? The aliens.”). All of the things you see set up in the first act are paid off fairly artlessly in the second half. I can’t even analyze it in terms of structure because I think the main character is supposed to be Harrison Ford, but then again Daniel Craig sort of changes, but then again I can’t tell where the real character change is for either of them, and hell, you know, at some point you can’t build a house out of Silly Putty.

On the plus side, there is a lot of pretty scenery. Daniel Craig does wear him some tight pants. And there are two attractive women with long dark hair, who seem pretty interchangeable, not only to me, but also at one point to characters in the movie. Harrison Ford is still Harrison Ford; Paul Dano does a pretty good acting job and provides some of the best comic moments. And there is some pretty alien tech. Also a cute dog.

So y’know, go with a group of people and advise the people around you that you will be making whispered comments throughout and that they are welcome to join in. Or wait for the DVD and watch it with friends at home. I have a feeling that you could make a few pretty awesome drinking games out of it.

Movie Review: Up In The Air

Since taking some screenwriting classes, our standards for movies have risen, slowly but surely. We pick at plot holes more, we attack dialogue, we scorn useless characters and sometimes entire movies (“Benjamin Button”). Yes, movies have been somewhat ruined, as our teacher warned us, but on the other hand, when we find a movie that really shines, the reward is that much greater.

“Up In The Air” is one of those rewards. It succeeds in a variety of areas: snappy dialogue, great acting, a great premise and imagery, good direction, and a story that makes you think for a while after you leave the theater.

It’s suited to our modern times. George Clooney plays a contract firer, a person hired to travel around the country and announce layoffs to people for companies that don’t want to make the announcement themselves. He has seen all kinds of reaction from the people he’s laying off, and he knows how to deal with it all. He loves to travel, and he loves the life he’s living.

Enter Anna Kendrick, playing a young business school grad who’s come to Omaha to change the company. She thinks the company can cut costs by firing people over webcam–which would mean Clooney would no longer be required, or permitted, to travel.

Also enter Vera Farmiga, a fellow traveler with whom Clooney shares a passionate night. They have an amusing moment of trying to synch up their travel schedules so they can meet again, and she seems the perfect companion for him.

Between these two women, Clooney’s world is in for some drastic changes, some of which he’ll handle better than others. But the movie is subversive: Anna has a steady boyfriend and expounds on the joys of stable relationships, and Clooney is required at one point to attend his sister’s wedding, leading one to think that this is going to be just another parable about the benefits of a family and how lonely the single life is. And then it turns it all on its head.

What this movie is about, as Clooney says eloquently in a speech to J.K. Simmons, is opportunity. Choices. Not limiting yourself to one thing, whether that thing be family, a job, or a way of life that keeps you on the road. In its own way, his addiction to travel is as confining as his sister’s complete inability to travel. And the movie is artfully done, with subtle touches and great performances from Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga, not to mention Simmons, Jason Bateman, and a host of other small parts.

The dialogue snaps and crackles, as good as the dialogue Clooney delivered with such panache in “Ocean’s 11.” Toward the later part of the movie, it becomes less amusing and more serious, but it never drags.

Along with “Up,” coincidentally, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. It’s not getting much attention–perhaps Clooney, in his third movie in as many months, is overexposed–but it deserves an Oscar nom.