perfection revisited

WARNING: spoilers for X-Men:Days of Future Past and Iron Man 3 will be marked in red when I get to them. So… just scroll past the red if you want to avoid the spoilers. Also, this post is going to be super long.

 

I’ve been listening to a lot of film podcasts lately. (The Golden Briefcase, Filmspotting, The /Filmcast, Slate’s Spoiler Specials, How Did This Get Made?) I don’t go to movies much anymore, not since I left my job at the movie theater, but I’m always interested in knowing about good and bad movies, and why they’re good or bad. The podcasters often discuss movies they loved (or thought were good) while at the same time highlighting the issues they had with the movie. Some films have a vast range of problems. And lately it’s made me wonder. How do these people–how does anyone, really–love a movie if it has so many issues? How can those movies be good movies? Continuity, character development, plot points, logic problems… aren’t these all signs of a bad movie? Okay, so I guess I’m facing two different questions, really, between loving a movie and thinking it’s a good/great movie. So I’ll tackle them both.

And yes, I will talk about the new X-Men movie in some detail later on, because my experience with that movie yesterday inspired me to write this post.

Loving a good movie. Alright. I think I talked about this before. It’s okay to love a bad movie. I love plenty of them. Hell, I loved Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher. I even enjoyed Knight and Day. That’s right. I loved Transformers, too–but only the first one. (The second and third ones can suck it.) I enjoy bad television: The 100Once Upon a Time (sort of), 2 Broke Girls. (If it makes anyone feel better, I also love some very good television like Downton Abbey and Longmire. If you’re interested, check out my previous posts for more favorite shows and movies.) So I can understand why these podcasters can say they love films like the new X-MenGodzilla, and even The Amazing Spider-man 2. I’ve only seen X-Men. I was planning on checking out the latter two, but Rotten Tomatoes and word of mouth has discouraged me from spending my money. Alas, I’m not always willing to admit those bad ones are actually bad. But I will recognize that critics and the general public probably think so. And I understand that movies and television make for a very subjective experience. One man’s Hamlet is another man’s Phantom Menace and vice-versa.

I watched Iron Man 3 when it came out. Opening night, too, so I saw it with an energetic crowd. I. Hated. It. Why? Well… okay. Nerd rant with spoilers incoming–though I’m not really a comic book nerd.

 

… SPOILERS START …

 

The buddy-buddy thing going on between Tony Stark and James Rhodes didn’t work for me, and I think that’s a big part of the film, part of its draw. I didn’t enjoy their banter. I found it tiring, and it tried too hard to be buddy-buddy.

The Iron Man suit itself–everybody was putting it on. I mean Pepper wore it. The President wore it. Hell, the bad guy wore it. You know who didn’t wear it that much? Tony Stark. Way to go, keeping Iron Man out of the Iron Man suit. You’ve turned a superhero into an overgrown child with a remote control.

And then the battle at the end, where bad guys and Iron Man suits were dropping like flies. How many suits did Tony go through to finally put down Killian? Oh, and Pepper has the extremis? No, wait, Tony figured out how to remove it in about five minutes. Never mind. And he destroys the suits? Why? I don’t know. He’s obviously going to need to have at least one for The Avengers 2.

Oh yeah… and if he could remotely summon them to do their own thing in that last battle, why didn’t it occur to him to summon them during the Air Force One attack? Sure would’ve made it a lot safer and smarter to have more than one suit rescuing people.

And I’m not the foremost expert on Iron Man mythology, but I’m pretty confident that Mandarin is his greatest enemy. The Joker to his Batman. Then you go and turn Mandarin into a fraud? An actor with questionable gastrointestinal issues?

And why, exactly, did we need Rebecca Hall in this movie? And having a history with Iron Man? She contributed nothing but one more death.

Don’t get me started on the little boy.

I think the movie started out with such promise, too. The return of Yinsen was awesome nostalgia. And then it went downhill from there. I want to be clear. I love the Iron Man character. I was a huge fan of the first film. The second film was… eh. This one. Let me put it this way. At no point during Iron Man 3 did I get excited. About anything. Zero nerdgasms. At least with Iron Man 2 I got excited when he put on the suitcase suit at the race track. Anyway. Rant over.

 

… SPOILERS END …

 

This leads to the second question. Believing a movie is good/great even when it’s bludgeoned with plot holes. My distaste for Iron Man 3 is directly tied into the problems I had with the film. At what point do the plot/character problems make it a nonsensical hot mess? Again, I suppose it’s subjective. I loved Inception and truly believe it was a fantastic movie. But yeah, it had some problems. I think the problems with that movie, though, are part of its genius. The Matrix Revolutions, however, not a good movie–mostly because of its plot and character problems. I think it has been a really long time since I saw a movie at the theater that was good. I’ve seen a few DVDs that I thought were pretty good, I guess. The Wolf of Wall Street was good. Not great, but good. I liked Ender’s Game, though I’ll admit it wasn’t very good. At least it was entertaining. Frozen–a great movie. I have a few more DVDs I’m hoping to try out tonight and tomorrow, like Veronica Mars the movie and Homeland. I hope they’re good. Well, I guess Homeland will be good, whether I like it or not.

Obviously, the issue crosses over into books as well. Ender’s Game is a great book. I had a lot of trouble actually liking it, though. The first Guardians of Ga’Hoole book was cute and kinda fun. Not very good. The World of Warcraft novel Vol’jin was absolute crap, and I hated it despite being a huge WoW nerd. Jaina Proudmoore and Thrall were also pretty bad. The Percy Jackson series. Fun, but not that good, clearly a direct derivative of Harry Potter and not nearly as good. I’m currently working on The Black Company and I’m not getting into it. Though most critics and readers will agree that it’s a fantastic fantasy series. I guess, but I’m not feeling it.

My point is, our preferences are highly subjective. Even standards are somewhat fluid, depending on the genre or reviewer. Not every top critic was in love with Godzilla. Most critics hated The Amazing Spider-man 2, but that didn’t stop it from earning a ton of money. I didn’t see that one, either, so I can’t comment on it. So I’ll point back to Iron Man 3 as a truly excellent example of a really sloppy movie coasting on goodwill and past successes. I once stated that the movie could’ve been Tony Stark picking his nose for two hours and it still would’ve earned a billion dollars. Which is too bad, really. I think RDJ is a great actor and Shane Black is a pretty good screenwriter. (I loved Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.)

So this leads into my experience with X-Men. And now we head back into spoilers.

 

… SPOILERS START …

 

Again, it started off well enough. A battle against the Sentinels that ends in multiple X-Men deaths, some of them fan favorites. I was even okay with it rewinding the clock. Unfortunately, seeing this plot device at work in the beginning completely took away the jeopardy and pathos I felt in the final battle (in the future) at the end of the movie. With all but two X-Men dying, I just didn’t care because I knew time would be reset again. In fact, the more X-Men that died, the more sure I became of a positive outcome. So did it matter to me when Storm died? Or Magneto? Not really, no. Hell, I laughed when the Sentinels pulled Colossus apart. (Admit it, though, that was just silly-looking.)

And yes, I understand that a new X-Men movie obliges us to see brand new mutants with interesting new powers. Fine. But only one of them mattered to the plot. It’s really unfortunate that Quicksilver was the most entertaining character of the film and he was in and out of the movie within fifteen minutes. Also, Wolverine’s knowledge of him came out of nowhere. At no point during any of the previous X-Men movies was Quicksilver mentioned, not even in the movie I was watching. So yeah, that came out of nowhere.

Also, I am a huge, huge James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender fan. Atonement and 12 Years a Slave are among my favorite films ever, and in no small part to those actors’ performances. Those guys are phenomenal actors, and their portrayals of Xavier and Magneto is great to watch. But the characters went nowhere. Though we get the feeling that Magneto is about to turn a new leaf, we discover he’s still the same old megalomaniac pro-mutant Magneto. Though I suppose we could argue that young Xavier gets his groove back by the end of the film, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. Characters are meant grow.

Speaking of. I really hope Ellen Page got paid a lot of money. She spent 99% of her screen time on her knees, holding her hands over Hugh Jackman’s head. A really stupid use of an arguably pretty-talented actress. (Addendum: how the hell does Anna Paquin get higher billing over Ellen Page for a three second, non-speaking cameo? Someone explain that to me–without referring to the supposed deleted scenes of hers that’ll be added in the DVD.)

Beast–superfluous. He wasn’t even a foil for anyone.

Havoc? Toad? The other ones and the entire Vietnam sequence? Pointless.

Mystique became little more of a MacGuffin than anything else, with only one real moment to shine at the very end of the movie.

And Wolverine, the biggest badass of them all, does the least amount of fighting in the film. One quick fight when he first transports into his young body against some mafioso-like thugs and very briefly in the final fight at the end of the movie. He spent the rest of the movie playing the unlikeliest cheerleader in the world to young Xavier. (Side note, if Wolverine doesn’t age–as Kitty Pryde pointed out–why does his older self actually look older?)

Then there’s the final outcome of the movie. So… Magneto attempts to kill the President but is stopped by Mystique. If things had ended there, I could easily understand how the future turns out better. But then Mystique turns around and prepares to kill (ostensibly) Trask, though the officials clearly believed the President was also in danger. Why this still results in a better future for mutants is what I don’t get. Seems like Nixon would still think the mutants are a threat when a gun is waved at him by a sexy blue chick. But eh, whatever.

The action was pretty hit or miss, too. The future battles are all entertaining, but as I said, the second one lost its emotional power after watching Kitty Pryde’s power at work in the first one. Prison breaking Magneto from the Pentagon was great, but this was all Quicksilver. He was hilarious, and watching him slow-mo sabotage a wave of guards was priceless. The fight in Paris was not that interesting, mostly because it was mired by frequent cuts of Wolverine having a mental breakdown. (Why did we need William Stryker in this? The movie had nothing to do with Wolverine or his past/future at all, and it ultimately went nowhere.) The final fight started off okay with the Sentinels falling under Magneto’s control, but then the fight loses focus as we just sit back and watch him Independence Day a baseball stadium across Washington DC except at a snail’s pace. It was impressive for about five seconds, then it was just meh.

Lastly, I want to touch on the stinger. First of all, if you’re going to throw just one stinger in there, don’t save it for the end of the scrolling credits. My god, who wants to stick around for all that when almost every stinger is at the end of the splash credits? I wouldn’t have stayed if I hadn’t already Wiki’d the movie before going. But all that aside, again, I would probably not have guessed we were seeing Apocalypse. It was vague. It came out of left field. It was set in the past and literally had nothing to do with the movie at all. Why did we have to go thousands of years back in time? I don’t know, except Bryan Singer really wanted to shoehorn in a reference to the sequel. Fine. Then at least make Apocalypse, I don’t know, look like Apocalypse! He looked like Powder, except prettier. I knew what I was watching, and I still didn’t recognize him. Way to go.

 

… SPOILERS END …

 

I was really looking forward to this movie. Its Rotten Tomatoes score of 91% with a 98% top critics score only cemented my opinion that the movie was going to be awesome. But it was not awesome, at least not to me, and I tried really hard to get into it. Too many problems, though, and I mentioned them all above in the spoilers if you want to read them. The Metacritic score of 74 is much more appropriate, in my opinion. I didn’t hate the movie. I think it was good. I think… I’m not really sure. The only thing I can say for sure is I thought it was okay, and that it wasn’t a terrible movie. So I began to wonder if I had lost my ability to appreciate a good film, despite its many issues. I don’t know.

All I know is it’s been a long time since I walked out of the theater a satisfied customer.

don’t lie to me

disclaimer: I differentiate between writing and storytelling, but for this post I’m pretty much referring to them as the same thing.

 

I recently talked to a friend about creating her own blog. She’s a fellow writer and storyteller, and we spent some time discussing the benefits of a blog. (Check her out at http://vindicatorartists.wordpress.com!) She’s working on some really interesting things, and I hope she shares some of that on her blog. When we talk, I think a lot about how our friends (writers and non-writers) react to us. In my opinion, there are really only two ways the people in our lives respond when we talk to them about our writing efforts. They either encourage us or discourage us. There are a lot of variations on those two, but it comes down to positive and negative reinforcement. I’m not going to talk about discouragement. It’s fairly obvious, and I really have very little to add to it.

So. Encouragement. It sounds great, right? It usually is. Friends urge us to keep on keepin’ on. We can do it. Don’t give up. And various offerings of how rejection/failure/adversity helps build character. I’m not suggesting these things are false or pointless. They’re extremely valuable truths. I get frustrated a lot during the writing process. Writer’s block, plot holes, continuity issues, flat characterization. Lack of time/inspiration/energy. It (almost) always lifts my spirits when I’m reminded there are people behind me, rooting me on.

But there’s a dark side to encouragement. There’s the empty kind, or as I think of it–enabling. It’s when the words of support begin to reflect something that isn’t really true. (Yes, I’m sure many of you may say that truth is relative.) We’ve all experienced this, especially in grade school. Everything we did was “great” and “wonderful,” even when it was utter crap. Because at that time in our lives, we needed the positive reinforcement. But some people never left that phase of encouragement. Bad writers (and yes, there are bad writers out there) are told they’re good writers. Why? Because someone believes they need to be pushed along, even if they have zero talent. I most recently encountered this in a writer’s group I attended a couple years ago. There were a few good writers, a few mediocre ones, and a few undeniably “not so good” ones. But the feedback was all the same. This is great! Really well written. I can’t wait to read more. I wondered if I’d read what they had. Yes, writing is a subjective experience, but there are standards! You can like a really bad piece of writing, just like you can enjoy a really terrible movie (Batman ForeverOblivion, every post-2000 Michael Bay flick.) It’s perfectly okay to enjoy bad writing. The problem is in saying it was great storytelling just because you liked it. That’s a cardinal sin, especially when you’re doing to a friend. I can understand why someone would say it, but be honest.

I’m… terrible at this. I have done this in the past, but 99% of the time I at least lied in an honest way. (I believed it was good writing–at the time.) Okay, well, that’s forgivable. But there’s the 1% when I knew it was terrible, and I said it was good, anyway. Bad me. But I have trouble, real trouble, saying that someone’s writing is bad. Not because I don’t believe it, but because I’m too afraid of the backlash of being too honest. You want my opinion? Then you should be prepared for it. But people usually aren’t. They get angry, defensive, aggressive. All of a sudden it’s my fault that I don’t like it. Well, no, that’s not why it’s bad, I explain. I’ve disliked really good writing (ChinatownThe Empire Strikes Back–though I eventually came around to that, The Dark Knight Rises), so my feelings on a piece have little to do with my opinion on the quality of it. I’m just too much of a turkey to tell you the truth. And that’s when encouragement turns bad.

Why am I mentioning all this? I guess because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the kind of feedback I give. On anything, really, not just writing. Am I being honest? Am I being positive or negative? Do I even care? I tend to take things very personally. I listen intently to feedback, even if it doesn’t seem like I do, even if I decide not to use it. I listen, and I react to it. I’ve taken a lot of discouragement over the years from family and friends. Writing isn’t a real career to them–despite the fact that they enjoy TV and movies. I should do something more practical, something serious. I should get real. I can’t do it. Whatever. Fortunately, I’ve never been told I’m a bad writer, and for a while I took it at face value. Then I began to wonder if people were doing to me what I’d done to them. Were people just stroking my ego? Was I actually a talentless hack? It’s a judgment call, I know, but I still wanted to know if people thought that. It took a long time to come to the conclusion that people were being honest with me about that. Now I’ve been told that some of my stories aren’t good. Hell, I went through that all the time in film school, when my professors would rip my scripts up. But even then, they encouraged me and spoke positively of my writing.

I don’t want to make you question. And I’m really sorry if I’ve done that. I guess I wanted to encourage you to be honest. You can say if something is bad. You can say it’s terrible. Just–don’t leave it at that. Think about why something wasn’t good before saying it wasn’t good. Think about whether it really didn’t work or if you just didn’t like it.

Trust me, we’ll appreciate the difference.

one little mistake

So I know maybe I got a bit personal. Some things you just need to get off your chest. As a writer, I work things out best when I write them down. Stories. Problems. Whatever. I didn’t work anything out yet, but I feel a lot better.

I meant to put something up yesterday. I was even thinking about it as I was shopping yesterday evening. Then I got home, and I was thinking about it some more. And then I forgot. I kept forgetting today, and when I did remember, I thought about ignoring it. Give up the blog. For me, it’s still more of an exercise than anything else. But I’m in the process of changing my habits. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need to exercise the new habit for a while before it feels natural.

I started some sort of 30 day cleanse last Friday. It’s pretty intense, considering the kind of things I’m used to eating. No more flour, at all. No more sugars. Nothing fried. No egg yolk. No more red meat. Well, maybe once a week or every two weeks. Cut down on the dairy to once a week or so. And that’s pretty much my entire old diet. Sandwiches, pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, juice, spaghetti, curry, hot dogs, eggs, bacon, tacos, cookies. Ugh. The list goes on, and I’m getting hungrier as I think about it. Now I eat vegetables, mostly raw, fruit, chicken, fish, turkey. I take my coffee black. (I actually haven’t tried coffee black yet. I’m scared.) It’s… not terrible. I seem to enjoy fruit and raw veggies a lot more than I thought. I miss the other food a lot less than I thought. The hardest thing, though, is eating more frequently. I need to eat at least four times a day, and I never ate more than twice. It’s annoying. And I’m exercising everyday. Just aerobics, though, no weight training. (I hate aerobics.) For somebody with ZERO willpower, I’m doing pretty good. But I’ll be honest. I’ve slipped up already, and I feel pretty bad, too. Not just mentally, but physically. Why? I guess because I’ve actually lost a bit of weight. That’s got me more excited than anything.

We need to have goals. I know what my goals are for the cleanse. Confidence. Without that goal, without repeating that to myself almost every hour of the day, I would’ve given up by day three.

We need to have goals. Especially as serious writers. I don’t know how the casual writer does things, but for those of us with a writing profession in mind, we set a goal for ourselves. Finish that book. Write that screenplay. Query the hell out of it. Meet new writers. Go to that networking event. Tell somebody about that story you’re working on (or have finished). Convince a friend to beta-read it. Goals goals goals.

My goal? Finish editing my book. Of course, I’m definitely going to look for an editor to work on it as well, but I want to give it my own pass before that happens. I’m still ironing out some kinks in the narrative I missed during the first few drafts. I’m taking a closer look at my character arcs. I’m even examining the effects of my POV fetish. But after that, my goal becomes to query my book. I will find an agent, and that agent will help me find a publisher and a market. That’s what it comes down to. Without those things constantly on my mind, I would’ve given up on the effort months ago. Because it’s hard. Damn. It’s so annoying, taking a magnifying glass to every word on the page. (My book is 500ish pages.) I’m actually about to work on the last chapter, as far as narrative wrinkles and wordsmithing go. I’m still back in the first third when it comes to my word trim and light proofread. But I’m getting there, and I’m growing more confident about it.

I’ve even set another goal, closely tied to the first one about losing weight and gaining confidence. I’m planning a week-long trip to LA. I’m hoping to go end of September, beginning of October. There are a few people out there I want to see, and there are a few things I want to do, maybe even a few meetings to set up. (Come on, confidence!) So I’m saving some money for that. And I’m getting in shape. And I’m working on my social skills a bit. With friends, with co-workers especially. I’m talking to more of them more than I have since I started. It’s hard, but it’s getting a little easier with time and practice.

Writing the blog… now that may take more time to settle into. I guess it’s mostly because I never know what’s worth sharing. I am always thinking about things, but most of it makes very little sense, even to me. Why do you care to hear about any of it? That’s the biggest mystery to me. I don’t know why anyone reads this, but I’m glad someone does. But even if no one did, I would still work at this. Because the goal isn’t to gain a ton of followers (that’s always nice, though). It’s to make this a part of my daily ritual, a regular event that I do because I need to do it, not because I have to. (Does that make any sense? I hope it does.)

One of the most important lessons I still remember from film school is to write. Duh, you’re thinking. But I mean write a lot. Write always. Write everything and anything, even if it’s not something you intended to write before. Don’t stop yourself, don’t discourage yourself. Push yourself, not just in writing but in all things.

Push yourself. And while you’re at it, maybe push me a little?

disappointment on high

I’d like to apologize in advance for the extreme sentimentality of this one. But it’s been weighing on me for a while. I make no excuses for anything I’m about to share. I’m just… explaining.

I wish for a lot of things. I don’t mean for things to have, things to achieve. Those are there, but I’m talking about things that can’t be. I wish… things had turned out different. I wish… I had kept in touch with some friends. I wish… I hadn’t burned so many bridges. I wish… they hadn’t died. What prompted this? Nothing specific. It’s always the little things.

It took me way too long to finish school. I know some of you might say that we all move along at our own pace, and that’s true. But not for me. School wasn’t hard. I didn’t have other obligations. It wasn’t money. It was just–me. I wasted time. I lost myself and didn’t really care to find myself. I invested my time and passion in the wrong things. I finally finished school, but I spent most of the best years of my life spinning my wheels trying only half-heartedly to get there.

When I was younger, I had many good friends. Really good friends. They should’ve been lifelong friends. Some of them moved. I moved. And the effort to stay close just wasn’t there. Friends of a season, my mom would call them. There was one, I would’ve considered him the brother I never had. I can’t remember the last time I talked to him. My best friend in college… I don’t even know what happened. We just stopped talking after his wife became pregnant. The same thing seems to have happened with another good friend. Those relationships I don’t take credit for losing. Those were choices that they made, and I actually worked at trying to keep those ties strong. But there are others, pretty much all the others… those are on me. Why? That’s hard to say. I’m not very sociable. I have treated a lot of friendships very casually, and that’s come back to hurt me. Some I stopped talking to just because I didn’t feel like putting in the effort. It takes a lot of energy out of me to be friendly, to call someone. It takes discipline, and I wasn’t ready for that.

I think about being with someone, and I recall the last time–maybe the only time–I was truly happy in a relationship. She eventually broke things off, but I was the one that really ended it. It’s ironic that time apart was what she and I needed most to realize how much we loved each other. And I messed it up. (Don’t ask me how. It’s really stupid. I was really stupid.)

There’s a lot of regret.

It’s like a drug, spending time in regret. Not so much that it feels good, but it’s… addictive to reflect on the better choices you could’ve made. Where would I be now if I hadn’t wasted so much time in college avoiding college? What would life be like if I hadn’t gone completely stupid in the relationship with the girl I loved? Where would I be if my dad hadn’t died? Or if I had greater discipline? I mean… it’s just so addictive.

In case you’re wondering, none of this is why I started writing. I’ve been a writer since I was seven, back when life was pretty much perfect. And I believe I always would’ve been a writer, no matter what other path I took. I just probably wouldn’t be writing about the same things. In that sense, my life choices have very much made me the writer I am today.

I like the writer I’ve become. I’m confident in my abilities, and it’s the one thing in my life I’m categorically proud of. (I am aware I essentially said the same thing three different ways.) I’m not looking for advice or anything like that, though I won’t turn it away if you offer. I just wanted to get these things down on the page and hopefully out of my mind. Thanks for indulging me.