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Pro-Story, Anti-Origin


To the people making movies: Enough with Origin Stories. Please.

Whether it’s a superhero story, or just a standard film, it’s really not necessary. We don’t need you to spend 30 minutes telling us something we already know or could easily figure out, if you just left us a few clues along the way.

I’m not looking forward to the Spider-Man reboot and wasting 30 minutes or more watching the origin story I already know. The only saving grace will be Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben. I’d be willing to say that most people at this point already know the basic points of Spider-Man’s origin. The same goes for Batman. When Christopher Nolan is done, let’s not tell another Batman origin. Let’s just get into a good story where he faces off against The Riddler or Hush.

Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman are going to be remade and remade and remade. Are we going to have to sit through their origin stories every time? Are we going to have to be “treated” to the same story told the same way, just with different actors? Unless you’re going to radically change the story, don’t bother – we already know it. Treat the superheroes like James Bond – same character, same universe, just a different actor. We can accept that.

I can accept movies like Iron Man or Green Lantern explaining the origin because: A) they’re heroes that not everyone is familiar with, and B) they’re captivating stories themselves. I can forgive Christopher Nolan’s Batman because his goal is to tell a complete Batman saga.

Producers may be going back to Stan Lee’s idea: “Every issue is someone’s first.” Chances are the audience has a basic idea and even if we don’t it can be covered in five minutes, or do the origin over the title sequence like Watchmen did. Even a voiceover like The A-Team TV series. Just because it might be the first time an audience is seeing something, doesn’t mean we’re idiots, so we shouldn’t be treated as such. Filmmakers don’t need to walk us through the whole thing.

The creators are somehow afraid we as the viewer won’t get the character if we don’t have the origin. But film has rarely given us origin stories. I don’t know why Sam Spade became a detective, but I don’t care, and I still know what kind of man he is.

Here are a few other great characters that we don’t know the origins for upfront: The Dude, Ferris Bueller, Dr. House, Doc Brown, Doctor Who, John McClane, and The Man With No Name. Would the characters have been any better if we had 30 minutes of origin?

The fact that so much time is wasted on the origin story is why the second movie in a superhero series is generally better than the first. (See: Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight, X2, and Iron Man 2) If you insist on having the origin at the open, please cut it down to just a few minutes, then get to the good stuff.



Twitter Compilations: #TotalRecall

Last night I watched Total Recall for the first time in probably ten years. I’m assuming the remake with Colin Farrell will have nothing to do with Mars and aliens. Here are my thoughts I tweeted while watching it:


So in the future we colonize Mars, fly through space, and implant memories, but we still use jackhammers?

The cab robot is supposed to be Don Knotts right?

The fight scene when Matt Damon realizes he's Jason Bourne was better.

How does he know to tell Sharon Stone that he went to Recall? I thought he couldn't remember.

Can human shields really take that many bullets?

I have to read this short story... Is the towel in there? Anyone know?

Robo Don Knotts does not like to be called Dickhead, he will try to run you over. #TipsForTheFuture courtesy of #TotalRecall

Again, all this tech on Mars and we're using fucking jackhammers still!

I forget, where did he get the lady suit? Is that in the short story?

Because he couldn't imagine a man sweating after everything else he's imagined.

It's surprising that Sharon Stone didn't become an action star after this movie.

I've never been able to tell if this movie has good special effects or bad ones.

Although the Kuato part is pretty nuts. Like the guy absorbed Chuckie.

Funny how TVs in the future went Tallscreen instead of Widescreen.

Worst fake punch ever.

So how does the drilling machine which is supposed to cut through rock, nick their shoulders without tearing their arms off?

It's amazing those guards didn't kill each other in the crossfire. "He's got a hologram!"

Who would win in a fight: Holo Arnold or Holo Tupac?

I didn't know the only thing keeping mars from being like earth was oxygen. We get some O2 over there, it'll be like Arizona!


Bonus: Thinking about this movie always makes me think of this song. (Video portion, but it was the only full version I found.)


Another Earth: A Review and Some Thoughts on the End

I'll make my review of Another Earth spoiler free. After that I'll have a couple thoughts on it that will have spoilers, but I'll give you all fair warning.

Another Earth is not the film I expected when I first heard the title. I couldn't qualify this has a science fiction movie, there's no fighting between the two earths. There's no bodysnatching or dopplegangers. It tells a very familiar story against a very unique backdrop in which we discover another Earth and can see it in the sky.

The movie was made for $200,000 and is beautifully shot. It's got great performances by William Mapother and newcomer, Brit Marling. I look forward to seeing a lot more of Brit Marling in future films. The events that connect the two at the start of the film and the events that bring them closer throughout build naturally. It's a slow build, but it doesn't lose my interest. I don't stop caring about the characters. The film takes a very strange turn at the hour mark. It makes you dread the impending reveal, so much so that you hope it won't ever happen.

Another Earth isn't going to be a huge sucess that will end up on the Best Films list between Citizen Kane and The Godfather. It's a solid film, well put together with a wonderful concept. I highly recommend giving it a watch. And when you do, you can come back and read my thoughts on the ending.


Warning: Major Spoilers Below



The very end of Another Earth is a quick cut after Rhoda encounters another version of herself. And that's it. They don't say anything to each other. There's no definite clues that this is even the Earth-2 Rhoda. Some people think it's a dream, or that everything was a dream of Rhoda's to deal with the accident. But that's a dumb theory. I think that there are one of two possibilities that lead to this ending.

1. The earths were still in sync at the start of the film. Rhoda hears a theory on TV that when the two earths saw each other, they started following their own timelines. But it could have happened later, once they made contact with each other. In this scenario, the car accident still happened. John and Rhoda still meet. The Richard Branson-type still had the contest to go to the other Earth and Earth-2 Rhoda won the contest. So at the end of the film, it's Earth-2 Rhoda coming to earth to tell Earth-1 Rhoda: "Better luck next time." If this scenario is true through, we know that the earths are now out of sync because Earth-2 Rhoda took the trip, but Earth-1 Rhoda stayed and gave the ticket to John.

2. The earths weren't in sync and the car accident never happened on Earth-2. In this scenario, when John goes to Earth-2, he finds his family alive and well, with the Earth-2 version of him. He decides that there isn't much for him on Earth-1 and seeks out Earth-2 Rhoda. He meets Earth-2 Rhoda and starts a relationship with her. This is mostly based on the speech that Earth-1 Rhoda gives before delievering the news. Earth-2 Rhoda either through winning the essay contest, or some other means, goes to Earth-1 to tell that Rhoda to forgive herself and that John has found happiness.

The second scenario is a bit more of a jump, I know. It's a more romantic ending. The first scenario is probably more likely based on the evidence in the film, but ends on a worse note for everyone. I choose to think there was a brighter ending and Rhoda gets redemption and forgiveness for her actions. Either way, we know the earths are out of sync and it proves the idea of free will being something we still have. And that's a positive.


Coffee is for Openers

I tend to have an obsessive personality. I get an idea in my head and it sticks with me for a while. My latest obsession is the opening sequences of movies. Opening sequences set the movie. They let you know what you can expect. They assure you that you’re money and time are well spent. The really good ones are memorable, the truly great ones become iconic.

I’ve seen a lot of people talk about title sequences lately. Websites like Art of the Title are bringing to mind how the title sequence is an art form that can contribute to the film style and the story. That’s not what I’m talking about in this case. The opening sequence is a lot like the opening line of a piece of writing.

Here are a few of my favorites that have come to mind lately. I included the scenes, or clips where possible. 

Drive, 2011: Drive got me started on this obsession. It’s a great establishing scene of The Driver character. It’s car chase, but not the kind you expect and the way the character handles himself in these first few minutes tells us a lot about the kind of man he is.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981: This has to be one of the most iconic opening sequences in movie history. When most people think of Indiana Jones, they think of him switching the bag for the idol, the boulder that rolls after him, all the tribesmen that chase him to the plane. It's a little slow to start, but picks up as soon as he cracks the whip for the first time, I'm in. (Couldn't find the scene, so here's the trailer.)

Apocalypse Now, 1979: With the shots of the jungle, overlapped with Martin Sheen, all done to The Doors’ “The End,” it perfectly captures the tone of the film and the mindset of Sheen’s character when he find him. When I think of Sheen’s wonderful performance in Apocalypse, I think of this opening. “Saigon... shit; I'm still only in Saigon...” 

Apocalypse Now Opening Sequence from Mike O on Vimeo.


There Will Be Blood, 2007: This is fantastic storytelling right here. Like any good opening, it gives us a perfect image of the main character. It's a little long at 13 minutes, but afterwards, we know who Daniel Plainview is. We see his dedication to what matters most to him – wealth – and it’s all done with anyone uttering a word.

There Will be Blood Opening from Media Clips on Vimeo.


Inglourious Basterds, 2009: I love this opening sequence. Overall, I think Tarantino has the best track record for great opening sequences, but this one is above the rest. The camera movement is phenomenal and highlights the wonderful performances of the actors. Next time you watch it, look for how the camera moves around the characters and builds the tension. It’s the longest on this list at 20 minutes and probably shouldn't be considered a "sequence," but does a perfect job of grabbing the viewers attention. (Plus, I made the list so nothing can be wrong.)

Inglourious Basterds from One Scene on Vimeo.



Something new and familiar

The Walking Dead just ended its second season on Sunday. It’s a fantastic show for two reasons: It knows that a zombie story is about more than just zombies, and an adaptation is more than just a repeat of the source material.

The first point is fairly self-explanatory. It’s not just about zombies, it’s about people and how they emotionally deal with the end of the world. There’s a human factor that a lot of people miss in stories. It’s part of the reason that some science fiction movies, some fantasy stories, some wholly unrealistic tales stand out to us – because we can still relate to the characters. It’s not just about surviving a horde of flesh eaters, it’s about surviving each other in a paradigm that has shifted so far it’s almost unrecognizable.

The second point, I like to think is rather self-explanatory too, but it’s something that I didn’t understand for a long time. I used to be that asshole telling you: “It was okay, but the book was better than the movie.” Now I see the truth, the book is different than the movie. It’s a different medium with different criteria. It’s like trying to compare recipes for pie and the pies themselves. You can’t judge one by the other’s standards.

If everything is lifted exactly from the source material, and I know the source material, why do I care about the adaptation? There’s not much of a draw to me if I know what’s coming next. The Walking Dead is a good example of this. It’s based on a fantastic comic book. Comic books are a weird medium for adaptation because there’s already a visual component. You could do something where you take shots directly from the book, like they did in Watchmen, but it isn’t quite the same. The same goes for trying to lift the dialogue.

The Walking Dead is a great example where they said, “We see what the comic has done, but we’re going to try new places and see what happens.” A lot of big points are hit from the comics, but the TV series has taken its own form. Hershel’s farm became a much larger setting in the show. Some characters lived longer in the series and some lived shorter. The point is that by the end of Season 2, I still cared because I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to happen, even though I know the original source.

The key to a good adaptation is trying to keep the same themes alive and keep the same feel to the story, but adjust how those ideas are presented for the medium you’re working in. A couple good adaptations in film: The Godfather, High Fidelity, Wonder Boys, No Country for Old Men, and the TV series, Justified. These all made changes to the source material, but they kept a great focus on the characters, their feelings, how they would react in different situations. It’s the same, but different. It offers more for the consumers, while still being that familiar thing we already love.