GETTING DC COMICS’ CHARACTERS BACK ON THEIR LIVE-ACTION FEET

I miss the old “bullet” logo.

In my last “Pete Saves” piece, I wrote about how I would have made BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.  It’s a great candidate for my treatment since it really was pretty rough.  Likewise, the live-action world of DC Comics is pretty rough.  While Warner Brothers and DC have made millions off of recent live-action versions of DC Comics properties, it can easily be argued that they could be making even more if the quality of the stories and characters was more toward the level of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.  This is the key to turning things around for Warner’s efforts with DC’s characters.

Full disclosure, I’ve always been more of a Marvel Comics guy.  Something about the real life problems of some of their most successful characters appealed to me at a young age–even before I was aware of why it appealed to me.  That said, I still enjoyed DC’s books a lot, too.  I found both the darkness of Batman and the optimism of Superman to resonate with me during my teenage years (depending on my hormones, I am guessing). 

There are also some amazing stories told with quite a few DC characters.  I’m not just talking about the obvious ones, like DARK KNIGHT RETURNS or the myriad other BATMAN titles that seem to catch all the attention.  There have been great story tellers across all of the best DC titles for decades.  Finally, we are at a place in both American and pop culture where comic books are big bucks when translated into the live-action world.  The problem lies in how you adapt the stories and the characters so that they both fit their new media and still capture the essence that made everyone fall in love with them in the first place.  That said, there is a structural issue that can have almost as big an influence on quality.

The solution is right under their noses…

Maybe it’s just because I grew up with it

My big problem is how some of the DC live-action productions have done an incredibly good job adapting the comics while others have done horribly.  What I call the FlashArrowverse (which now includes the super fun SUPERGIRL and the kinda loony LEGENDS OF TOMORROW) represents the best of Warner’s DC live-action storytelling.  What makes these shows successful, in my opinion, are two things:

1) Human stories.  From the beginning of ARROW, the show told the story of a guy who’d had a legacy dumped on him he did not want but ultimately felt compelled to assume responsibility for, only to discover everyone he loved was not what he thought they were.  Learning the world around you is not what you thought it was is something everyone has to deal with growing up.  That first time you realize your dad isn’t a hero and your mom can’t solve every problem, for instance. Obviously for the lead character of ARROW, the stakes are higher, but everyone who watches that first episode can feel some kind of resonance with the character.

2) A tight story universe.  For most of the existence of series Television (in the US, at least) episodes were just that–episodes.  Not chapters in a larger story.  For decades, characters would show up once in a single episode and never be heard from again.  Plot points from one episode would almost never get mentioned in another.  Nowadays, series TV wants to tell one epic tale after another and that choice has resulted in viewers getting much more readily sucked into shows.  The phrase “binge watching” wasn’t something Netflix invented–it was something we were doing because we loved a show.  We wanted to dive into a fleshed out, fictional universe and not come out for several hours. 

The folks at Warner Brothers and DC Comics, don’t seem to understand this second part.  DC, for years, has been encouraging their writers to tell stories that are not part of the core story universe of DC.  This is fine in the comics since it was always pretty obvious when a reader would pick up a comic that wasn’t part of the same ‘reality’ as the other books.  Plus, readers always had that core story universe waiting for them to come back to.

But Warner and DC haven’t done either with their live-action properties.

1) None of the characters in the Snyderverse seem to have real-life problems, only absurd ones. 

2) GOTHAM is a separate story universe from FLASH and ARROW while what fans call the Snyderverse, named after MAN OF STEEL director Zack Snyder, is where all of the recent DC Comics movies have taken place in.  From what I understand, Warner/DC has said that the reason for this is that they want to give their creative teams the most freedom to tell their own stories.  This seems to include a complete lack of editorial control from the studio or the offices of DC Comics. 

As a result the “dark” and “gritty” stuff in MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE is a completely different kind of darkness and grit you see on the CW’s ARROW.  The  stuff Oliver deals with is brutal, depressing and, most of the time, realistic.  Meanwhile, Superman lets half of Metropolis die, gets to date Lois Lane, has no problem compromising his morals to save his mom–it’s just a mess in the Snyderverse.  I haven’t seen SUICIDE SQUAD yet, but I hear it’s another horror show.  I’ve also heard it was completely recut when the trailer seemed, to producers, to be for a better movie than the one they had made.  Worse yet: they had the guy behind the trailer recut the full film. 

So, rather than just focus on what the FlashArrowverse was doing right, Warner and DC decided that “artistic purity” was the way to go, at any cost. 

Here’s what I think Warner and DC Comics should do with their movies:

Let the events of last year’s FLASHPOINT season finale of FLASH slide the events of the Snyderverse into the FlashArrowverse.  Then, FIRE ZACK SNYDER or, at the very least, make him take a class in story telling.  The real problem here is that you should be able to tell the same dark-n-gritty story Snyder has been telling while managing to do what the writers in the FlashArrowverse have been doing for years.  Forcing the movie-creators into the same boat as the folks on TV makes a lot of sense to me because it makes them adhere to story telling rules that make good sense.  Snyder left to run amok?  Well, we’ve seen what happens.

What will happen if Warner and DC Comics don’t do this?  This:

The shows inside the FlashArrowverse will continue to be some of the most fun genre shows on TV garnering more and more fans the longer they run.  Meanwhile the movies in the Snyderverse will continue down their path of “otherness” that fans of the the comics and the FlashArrowverse will reject, as they have already shown they are willing to do.  Before long, the Snyderverse movies will eventually go the way of TERMINATOR sequels–where, even the good ones, will bomb. 

What I am saying here is that the longer the DC live-action universes stay fragmented, the more damaged the brand will become.  It will likely blow back on the FlashArrowverse because people unfamiliar with it will accidentally equate it with movies in the Snyderverse and with GOTHAM.

GOTHAM is so weird and out-there that it is building it’s own audience of fans that seem to be supporting it.  I don’t personally get it since I couldn’t justify sticking with that world since it had nothing to do with the characters I already care about in the FlashArrowverse nor was it contiguous with the Snyderverse. 

How do I know my ideas will work?

I know my ideas will work because what I am suggesting is essentially what’s been Disney and Marvel’s plan for years.  What I feel is proof that DC is doing it wrong is the way the tone of ANT-MAN, AVENGERS, and JESSICA JONES all vary from the tone of each other, all while existing in the same story universe.  Marvel has made something amazing with their live-action endeavors–a fictional place fans of all different types and interests can go and enjoy themselves.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe also largely avoids the fragmentation problems fans of Warner and DC properties are facing.

As a fan of the FlashArrowverse, I can say that I have chosen to not see DC-related content if it is outside of that story universe.  I will eventually see the movies when they reach home video or immediately if I happen to win a contest for free tickets or something.  But I am not going out of my way for anything else until I get the idea that things have changed.* 

*This excludes the new WONDER WOMAN feature because I really really want it to be good.  Women deserve heroes and men deserve women heroes. 

BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN VS A SIMPLE FIX

The whole point of this movie was undermined by them not having a good reason to go head-to-head with each other.  In my version of this movie, I’d have given them one that was MUCH more persuasive than “Lex is making me do this!”
Now, I could go into how this movie is a mess of crap, interspersed with rock-stupidity, but if you’ve seen this movie, you already know this.  So, I’ll just jump to the part where I explain how I’d do things differently.  I think it’s a fairly simple solution, too.  I tried to write something more like my usual thing but there is just so much to say about this film, I had to give up.  So, here we go:

Start over from Scratch… Almost…

 

Ultimately, this is what I would do–everyone always complains that Superman is a boring character.  I have always disagreed and cite the Gangbuster arc from the late 80s/early 90s (I think?) as evidence.  In fact, the same thing that fuels the Gangbuster story arc occurs in the previous movie starring Superman, MAN OF STEEL.  So, it would have been the perfect set up.  So, I’d start there–with Superman feeling terribly terribly guilty for having played judge, jury, and executioner for General Zod.

From there I’d still take some liberties with it compared to the source material.  So, I suspect that Mr. Snyder might still actually get a kick out of my version of this movie.  However, I’d go in the opposite direction from what most people expect.  First, I’d make Batman retired.  The problem of crime was almost entirely solved in Gotham City after Wayne Industries invested heavily in community centers, schools and local colleges.  Of course, everyone (in the media, especially) assumes it’s Batman’s techniques that have saved Gotham.  Bruce knows the truth but feels that Batman’s reputation needs to stay intact, just to keep up appearances. However, with news reports of Batman having moved to Metropolis, Bruce Wayne realizes he must get involved once again to protect his legacy.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent suffers from serious PTSD after killing General Zod–an act which, it turns out, goes against every moral molecule in his body.  He wakes every night from night terrors and has become despondent and difficult as a person.  He and Lois end their relationship but are placed together by their new boss on the Batman-In-Metropolis story.  Perry White has been let go after LexNewsCorphas bought the Daily Planet.  Lois is frustrated but is still the ultimate pro and Clark decides to shut up and do his dayjob, though, he’d rather not be bothered.  “Let Batman do to/for Metropolis what he can. Superman (I) could use some help!”

After all, Superman, since MAN OF STEEL, has been finding his more peaceful means of crime control are simply not working.  At least, he’s not patient enough to let them work.  It seems to him that crime and crimes are getting worse and he is not sure what to do about it.  He is desperate and jealous of Batman’s ability to beat criminals into submission especially here on Superman’s turf.

That’s the set-up, here’s Act One

Bruce, Lois and Clark all begin to investigate these Batman sightings in Metropolis (obviously crossing paths more than once) only to be distracted by, reports of Metropolis’ Batman wearing a red suit/mask and having the ability to move very fast.  Also distracting is a mysterious, dark-haired woman investigating this new vigilante in Metropolis, as well.  Finally and worst of all, they are distracted by news reports from LexNewsCorp’s conservative-leaning, fear-mongering news outlets, The Daily Planet and Lex News Network (in my BMvSM, Lex would be portrayed by a girthy, balding white man with jowls and a penchant for pretty anchor ladies). 

Bruce comes up dry after following around Lois and Clark and decides it’s back to the cape and cowl.  So, as Batman, he tricks Superman into a meeting (his own scream auto-tuned to a frequency high enough that Supes can’t ignore it).  Superman is angry, accusatory, and threatening to take Batman to the police.  Batman manages to convince him that he is not behind the excessively violent attacks in Metropolis, reminding Superman of Batman’s record of never killing anyone in all his years in Gotham.  This pisses off Superman (reminding him of his own execution of Zod), and he snaps an agreement at Batman, just to shut him up.  They will work together to catch this new guy, whom they’ve come to call Gangbuster for his preference of criminal victim. 

After a few nights of no luck finding their target, they agree to go to a gang hotspot but Batman rejects Superman’s intel for the hotspot location, insisting that his own information is more accurate (“Where’d you get that intel from? Reading the Daily Planet?”) and Superman begrudgingly allows Batman to take the lead (“They do call me the World’s Greatest Detective.”).  They go to the big gang hotspot and wait all night.  Gangbuster does not show.    Batman suggests they take a night off.  Superman agrees.  

Act Two
 
The next night, Bruce is on the balcony of his hotel room when he sees that dark haired woman staring at him from the next balcony over.  She commands him to immediately go to the gang hotspot.  Before Bruce can react, she leaps into the air and seems to fly, up to the roof.  Throwing on his cowl, Batman grapples up to the roof and asks Alfred (over his cowl’s communication system) for some spy satellite help.  “Master Bruce, she’s right behind you.”

“World’s Greatest Detective, huh?” she says, going on to insist he must go to the gang hotspot to catch his quarry.  Batman demands to know how she knows Gangbuster will be there tonight since he wasn’t there last night.  “Because he thinks you and your super friend won’t be there tonight.  You need to go now.  Don’t contact your friend.  Just go.” 

Batman suits-up and heads out to the gang hotspot to find Gangbuster beating the crap out of thirty or forty armed gang members.  Bats tells everyone to run for their lives as he manages to catch up to the rogue vigilante. Batman tries to engage the madman in some kind of dialog but Gangbuster is more interested in smashing thug heads and breaking criminal bones.  Finally, Batman demands Gangbuster take himon since Batman is a criminal, too.  Gangbuster begins to speak in a very angry, growly voice that is somehow familiar.  Batman sees bullet holes in Gangbuster’s red jumpsuit and his red mask has been partially broken from a gunshot to the face, but there is no blood.  Bats looks back at the bullet holes and sees red, yellow and blue fabric underneath the jumpsuit.  Batman leaps at Gangbuster, putting his fingers through the bullet holes in the jumpsuit and tearing a chunk of fabric off, revealing Superman’s “S” underneath. 

Superman/Gangbuster proceeds to beat the living crap out of Batman.  Batman manages to limp away from Superman but Superman’s eyes begin to glow.  “You’re right, Bruce… you are a criminal!” 

Just as Superman fires his heat vision at the Dark Knight, out of nowhere Wonder Woman arrives in the arms of the Flash, her shield protecting herself, Flash, and Batman.  Superman’s heat vision reflects off of her shield and begins tearing apart the building they are in.  Wonder Woman commands Flash to get Batman out of harms way and to then come back to get her.  He does.  Obviously, she does not pursue Superman/Gangbuster, who escapes as the building collapses.


Act Three

Now, the climax is ready to be set up–it’s where Batman taps into his secret stash of Kryptonite under the Batcave in order to prepare to face an insane Superman.  In the process of developing tech that will let them take on Superman, they decide to enlist the help of STAR Labs’s latest creation, Cyborg.  Wonder Woman keeps the Flash involved and they formulate a plan that will drive Superman to Metropolis harbor.  Once to the water, Wonder Woman knows a guy who can help.

So, they execute their plan and, being consumed by vengeful rage, Superman falls for that plan and finds himself being driven toward the water.  “You guys know I can swim, right?”


Frustrated with the ease at which they manipulated him into this confrontation, he starts to get very angry and very brutal.  He takes down all of them one by one.  But then turns toward the harbor to see Aquaman and his army rise from the water.  “And you’re here to stop me?”


“We are here to restore the balance of justice.”

“JUSTICE?!?”  Superman  starts to protest, but then stops, looking at his beaten down colleagues.  A look of horror crosses his face.  “My friends… I… there can be no justice… not as long as I am on this Earth!”

Superman leaps upward and does not stop.

Aquaman and his soldiers help the others to their feet.  Batman stares up at the night sky.  “He’ll be back… and we need to be ready.” 

That’s how I’d do it.

My title would be different, too.  It would be “BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: BALANCE OF JUSTICE.”
Just one word of difference, but that is an important word.

The whole problem I had with BMvSM: DoJ was that there was just no reason for them to go head-to-head against each other.  I don’t mind the abstract idea of making Batman a paranoid, Alex Jones type, but not like this–not in a way that makes him look like an incompetent paranoiac.  Obviously, I am cool with changing the characters around, but the change has to lend itself to the goals of the story while still staying true to core aspects of the characters.  Batman is a hero.  He needs more than the politics of fear to justify attacking Superman.   
Likewise, Superman needs more than his mom in danger and a nearly terminal inability to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with him to justify fighting Batman.  Along these lines I feel like I’d please Zack Snyder fans (and hopefully Snyder, as well) because this story is about Superman going insane.  This isn’t about how Superman is a good guy and Batman’s paranoid about nothing. This is about Batman’s paranoia being right and Superman having a psychotic break and going all Norman Bates on Metropolis.  That’s pretty damn gritty if you ask me.

Was BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE an entertaining movie?  Some people thought it was but most of us thought it was not.  So, if they had done it my way, yeah, it would have been a much bigger crowd pleaser and made a heckuva lot more sense.
PS I’d also have wanted to figure out a way to tie these movies into TV’s FlashArrowverse because, well, even at its worst, the FlashArrowverse is still more fun than BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.  That said, it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker as I am a big fan of the multiverse concept.

New on #PeteSaves: How the new #GHOSTBUSTERS isn’t going to please everyone but that’s not important.

Never have 4 women playing fictional ghost hunters
caused so many losers with no lives to lose their minds.

So, usually, when I write about how I’d have made a film differently, it ends up being a fairly involved explanation.  However, there really isn’t that much to fix with the new GHOSTBUSTERS movie.  It works fine and, I’d say, it’s probably a tighter origin story than the original film.  Honestly, I laughed my ass off and the fact that women made me laugh my ass off makes it all the more interesting and fun to me.

Of course, I’m not threatened by women in the least, so maybe I’m unique among men.  But I’ll get to more of this in a bit.  For now, I’ll stick with the film, itself.  So…

WHAT WORKED IN GHOSTBUSTERS

Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of the original GHOSTBUSTERS.  That’s not to say I don’t like the film–I do.  I’m just not one of those people that praises it endlessly.  I’d rather watch CADDYSHACK or STRIPES.  The point is, this film didn’t have to live up to any any preconceived expectations for me.  All it had to do was tell a cohesive story and make me laugh.  Which it did!  The bonus is that the cast are all really funny people who made the film quite fun to watch.  Usually, in American cinema, women aren’t allowed to be funny.  So, this was a real treat.

Also, the warm reverence this film holds for the original GHOSTBUSTERS is wonderful.  If only every reboot had this kind of respect for its source material.  It was so great seeing all of this film’s nods to what came before.

Obviously, the FX were amazing, but there really is no excuse for them to not be in today’s world. 

 WHAT DID NOT WORK IN GHOSTBUSTERS

Read the rest at PeteSaves.us!

The New GHOSTBUSTERS isn’t going to please everybody, but it should. That’s not the takeaway here.

Never have 4 women playing fictional ghost hunters
caused so many losers with no lives to lose their minds.

So, usually, when I write about how I’d have made a film differently, it ends up being a fairly involved explanation.  However, there really isn’t that much to fix with the new GHOSTBUSTERS movie.  It works fine and, I’d say, it’s probably a tighter origin story than the original film.  Honestly, I laughed my ass off and the fact that women made me laugh my ass off makes it all the more interesting and fun to me.

Of course, I’m not threatened by women in the least, so maybe I’m unique among men.  But I’ll get to more of this in a bit.  For now, I’ll stick with the film, itself.  So…

WHAT WORKED IN GHOSTBUSTERS

Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of the original GHOSTBUSTERS.  That’s not to say I don’t like the film–I do.  I’m just not one of those people that praises it endlessly.  I’d rather watch CADDYSHACK or STRIPES.  The point is, this film didn’t have to live up to any any preconceived expectations for me.  All it had to do was tell a cohesive story and make me laugh.  Which it did!  The bonus is that the cast are all really funny people who made the film quite fun to watch.  Usually, in American cinema, women aren’t allowed to be funny.  So, this was a real treat.

Also, the warm reverence this film holds for the original GHOSTBUSTERS is wonderful.  If only every reboot had this kind of respect for its source material.  It was so great seeing all of this film’s nods to what came before.

Obviously, the FX were amazing, but there really is no excuse for them to not be in today’s world. 

 WHAT DID NOT WORK IN GHOSTBUSTERS

There was an over all sense of “meh” I got from the story.  It was fun enough, but I just didn’t get that the stakes were very high for anyone.  One of the reasons I prefer THE OMEN over THE EXORCIST is because THE EXORCIST just assumes you believe in God and Satan.  It doesn’t try much to  build a universe where God and Satan are real.  THE OMEN, however, takes you down a path of discovery with the protagonist that, quite thoroughly, establishes that Satan is real and his son needs to be stopped. Unfortunately, neither this GHOSTBUSTERS or the original does much to make me believe, aside from just showing a bunch of ghosts.  Like it’s predecessor, this new version doesn’t do much to describe a world where ghosts exist and how that world would be different from our own.  Think of any GHOSTBUSTERS film like you would a sequel to SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  That hypothetical sequel would take place in a world where zombies are an every day part of life and have changed culture and society.  Ghosts existing would do the same–even if the ghosts in the current story were just some sudden “flare up of ghost activity” as is the case in the new GHOSTBUSTERS.  This certainly can’t have been the first flare up.  Let’s hear about the previous ones.  Imagine if all of the cows that once lived on Manhattan (back when it had farms on it, maybe?) suddenly came back as ghosts and were stampeding down Broadway. If one tenth of the people who ever died in New York City came back as ghosts, that would be an insane amount of people.

But this isn’t my biggest problem with the film.

What’s worse is the utter lack of stakes.  GHOSTBUSTERS isn’t the first ghost film to fail on this level.  It’s a problem I have with most ghost stories.  OK, so, you’ve got a ghost. So?  What has a ghost ever done to anyone?  They are very rarely depicted doing anything to harm anyone.  They just key in on our base fear of death.  This is a pretty boring premise to base an entire movie around.  As a result, you need the “cats and dogs living together” chaos from the original film promised somehow.  Ghosts need to be claiming souls or otherwise causing havoc.  All we saw in GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) was Slimer running amok and ghosts infesting everything.  Mild chaos, I suppose, but it really wasn’t clear why this was worse than say, the aftermath of a Lakers game.  There is one cast member who maybe got killed by a ghost, but the film, does not clarify this. I’ll get into more on this in the Spoiler Zone below.

So, in the middle of the climax, I was pretty much just shrugging because the imagination of the writers had pretty much run out.  In fact, there wasn’t a lot of imagination put into the ghosts at all.  One character claims she knows all about New York City history, but that was barely exploited.  It would have been great if ghosts of historical NYC residents showed up that she could recognize and come up with ways to stop or capture them.

Nobody dies and the only threat to anyone comes in the form of a portal to the ghost dimension where people might get pulled. BIG HERO SIX much?

I’m not saying I don’t like the film!  Just being critical where I think it could have been better. I know making movies is hard. Go watch a short one I made: mrpuppet.thepal.us

INTO THE SPOILER ZONE: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED: THERE BE PLOT POINTS AHEAD! ARRRR.

OK, so what happened to Bill Murray?  He plays a debunker, but is carried out a GB HQ window by a winged ghost and is never heard from again.  

And what was with the “U” pin that both the blonde Ghostbuster (Holtzmann, played by Kate McKinnon) and Sigourney Weaver wore?  I get that it’s a “U” with a screw through it (GET IT, meh, it’s cute but, really, movie?).  It could have been a nice bit of universe building to establish something big behind it.  Instead, it’s just a pin Holtzmann probably got from Weaver, who is clearly her mentor. I thought the “U” might represent some sort of crazy science university for insanely advanced brainiacs. 

And why did Times Square turn into a time warp?  Was it because every time the film would cut to fictional New York City it looked like a studio set?  I liked the idea of ghosts from long past showing up, but why did Times Square from long past show up?  Was it just a set from a previous movie laying around?  If you’re going to use pirates and colonial-era ghosts, make stronger choices with them!  If not ghosts of actual people from NYC history, how about ghosts of fictional people from fictional NYC history?  Something beyond just the two ghosts at the beginning which have vague backstories that are never actually explored.

I get that making a GHOSTBUSTERS movie at all took a lot of effort and there was probably a lot of  pushback along the way, so I’m fine with forgiving these problems and just enjoying the film.  There is one thing that I am not willing to forgive… but we are done with the spoilers.

END OF SPOILER ZONE: YOU ARE NOW SAFE TO READ ON WITHOUT HAVING THE MOVIE RUINED FOR YOU

There has been a lot of hubbub about this film regarding something that should absolutely not be an issue.  It’s been caused by the thing that is absolutely unforgivable to me.

Yep! In the end, it’s men.  There are no women tweeting horrible things at Leslie Jones.

THE UNFORGIVABLE THING ABOUT THE NEW GHOSTBUSTERS

Sexist jerks who think an all female GHOSTBUSTERS cast is somehow disrespecting the original GHOSTBUSTERS.  It is really hard for me to accept that there are people this backwards in the 21st century.  We’ve got gay marriage in most states in America, we’re working on trans-gender-safe rest rooms.  We have a black president, as I type this, and we’ll probably have a female president next year.  Yet, somehow, there are people who say we can’t have female Ghostbusters.  

What’s worse is that there has been a sexism-inspired concerted effort to slam the film, its stars and it’s viewer ratings on IMDB.  What’s even worse is that there was an organized effort to drive at least one cast member from Twitter.  Leslie Jones had to deal with an absurd amount of harassment from some serious losers who need to get lives.  She had sexually offensive photos tweeted at her and, yes, in 2016, people sent her photos of gorillas.  

Absolutely.

Despicable.

So, not only do men of color have to worry about cops murdering them, but now women of color have to worry about centuries-old racist “jokes” being hurled at them all day long.  These scumbags need to understand that being racist is being the bad guy, the oppressor, the person who usually dies at the end of an action movie because he’s, well, a huge douche bag. 

Now, not everyone who has been hating on the new GHOSTBUSTERS is racist.  Some of them aren’t even sexist.  These people still don’t want a new GHOSTBUSTERS.  This next paragraph is for them.

One of my favorite movies is the original 1987 TRANSFORMERS film.  It is so much fun!  And it has robots, heroism, death, destruction and heavy metal music!!  It’s awesome and exciting and wonderful.  When Michael Bay decided to make his own TRANSFORMERS movie, I was annoyed.  I knew he’d do a rotten job and felt that he was disrespecting something dear to my heart for many years.  However, after confirming my fears by seeing the first of five fricken TRANSFORMERS films, I elected to just not care.  The less I cared, the more healthy my stress level was.  And you know what? I can pop my DVD of the 1987 TRANSFORMERS into my aging DVD player any time I want.  

So, why the heck can’t these jerks with too much time on their hands just slide their well-worn VHS copy of the original GHOSTBUSTERS into their video cassette recorders and enjoy the past the same way I do?  Why do some of these people have to do such horrible things to anyone who dares make a movie they don’t like (or worse, don’t want to like)?  Are the rest of their lives so depressingly out of whack that they need to hate on something that can be somewhat easily ignored?

These are rhetorical questions, of course, but these people bug me anyway.  I would have just ignored them, but to see the kind of harassment that Leslie Jones had to put up with is just spirit-breaking–and I’m not even the one being harassed.

If you happen to be one of these people who don’t understand why anyone would want a lady GHOSTBUSTERS movie, you should really rethink your attitude toward women.  You may think you’re not being sexist but you are.  The more you dig in and think “some things only men should do” the more stuck in time you’ll become.  Men have been doing all the cool stuff in movies, TV shows, and in life forEVER.  Stop this archaic thinking and join the future.  The future is a place where everyone can do, within reason, anything they want–including busting fictional ghosts in a movie nobody is forcing you to see.

Please come back to Twitter, @Lesdogg! Twitter is kind of caring about things like this now by banning masterminds of hate campaigns! Hopefully, Twitter will continue to give a crap!

Was the new GHOSTBUSTERS a perfectly entertaining film? Sure was! But you have to admit, the world would be better without so much sexism and racism.

Making MIDNIGHT SPECIAL Actually Special

One of the piece of promotional art for MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016). OK, first off, telling me a white kid with glowy eyes is “NOT LIKE US.” is hilarious because, well, he’s a white kid. He’s just like us. He’s got glowy eyes? So what? Those could be mirrored sunglasses for all we know! Oh and isn’t that cute? He’s reading a SUPERMAN comic. MICHAEL SHANNON was IN a SUPERMAN movie! And both that film and this one are not so great! 🙁

From the director of two films you’ve never heard of (TAKE SHELTER and MUD), comes MIDNIGHT SPECIAL–a film that dares to tell the story of attractive white people who are the parents of a very advanced and equally white young boy who needs to be protected from an evil (?) religious cult.  Starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, the guy who played Uncle Owen in one of the STAR WARS prequels, and the guy who played Kylo Ren in a STAR WARS sequel, this film is one of those movies that will make you wonder if anyone read the script before filming began.

Thus ends my audition script for a job writing for Honest Trailers.

What Works in MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

ARG. That first paragraph was filled with the nicest things I could possibly say about that film.  OK, I could add that the cast is great and the effects are fine.  
 

Okay, now, I can’t say anything else positive about the film.  Though, just based on what I said in that first paragraph, does this even sound like a good movie to you?  Parents of a child with special powers on the run from a religious cult?   Sounds OK, I guess, but there’s certainly nothing overtly special about it.  Magical child stories are utter cliché in western storytelling.  I mean, remember that one story about a child with special powers from two thousand years ago named Jesus?  His parents thought he was special, too.

What Did Not Work in MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

This film portrays the religious cult as the most boring religious cult ever.  The movie poster claims that Sam Shepard is in this film, he plays the cult leader, but he’s barely in 3 scenes.  His thugs are bland and boring (and also white).  The cult is flat and seems to have no goals, nefarious or otherwise.   The parents are equally flat.  They have almost no past aside from the fact that (we assume) they consummated their relationship in order to give birth to their literally magical child.  And really, what parent doesn’t think their child is magical?  In other words, this isn’t exactly the most exciting premise for a story. Especially considering no attempt was made to give the parents jobs or personalities outside of their interest in keeping their son safe from the evil cult.

I’ve seen reviews of this film that talk about the “intriguing mystery” of it.  There is nothing intriguing about this film except for how anyone could find it’s flat, uninteresting mystery intriguing at all.  Seriously, all you do is follow along until the boy explains everything that is going on.  Or when Kylo Ren from the STAR WARS sequel explains it to us.

Yes, that’s right, this film violates the first rule of filmmaking!  SHOW, DON’T TELL.  Sorry to yell like that, it’s just that it seems so obvious to me.  YOU ARE MAKING A MOVIE.  “MOVIE” IS SHORT FOR “MOVING PICTURE,” GET IT? IT’S VISUAL. SHOW US STUFF.  UGH…  but seriously, there is no mystery here at all.  This would be a spoiler, except, really, it isn’t.  The boy is special.  That’s it.  It’s just how special ends up being what is revealed along with what it means for him.  So, the movie basically makes you sit there for 100-ish minutes waiting to discover to what degree he is special.

Imagine if the movie JAWS had ended at the point where Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss worked out how big the shark was.   Yeah, we don’t see them react even, it’s just like “that’s a big shark” and then, cut to credits.  No big thing, no “we’ve got to close the beaches!” no attempt to go get the shark, just that’s it.

 
Don’t bother with this film. If people tell you it’s good, politely decline from ever speaking to them again.

What’s worse for me is that the writer and director of the film is a guy called Jeff Nichols.  Yep, I suppose I’m distantly related to this guy (my last name is Nicholls–with 2 L’s).  So, I hate to slam this film or its director, but I just don’t get it.  It really strikes me that if he had made a single interesting choice in the film, it would have made it better.  

 
OK, now we’re almost getting to the part where I fix this film.  Normally, I try to figure out a way to fix things in post, by re-cutting and re-shooting as little as possible.  However, it’s just not possible here. I’ll need to re-shoot the whole movie with a new script with even a new cast.  This is why you should talk to me before you green-light a movie, people.

So, let’s fix this thing.  In order to do that, we need to enter the Spoiler Zone which we will do in a sec.  First, I want to talk about the casting.

You’ve heard of “rose colored” glasses? Well, Hollywood reads scripts with white colored glasses.

Now, I know Hollywood LOOOVES to stunt cast.  If you have an actor with a name or a lot of Twitter followers, that’s a great thing.  The thing is, even with that criteria, there is no excuse to have an all white cast.  Don’t get me wrong–I really love the people in this film.  Michael Shannon is AMAZING in BOARDWALK EMPIRE and I saw him on Broadway in LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and he was really good.  Kirsten Dunst is generally 100% in her movies no matter how bad they are.  I like Uncle Owen and Kylo Ren as well, but there was nothing any of these four actors brought to this movie that couldn’t have been brought by actors of color.

In 2016, there is no excuse to hire an entirely white cast.  There are PLENTY of brilliant actors of color all around these days, yet still too many shows and movies cast mostly white people.  One day I will have to write a big long post about how utterly bored I am with seeing my people (Caucasians) in so much TV and movies.  A person of color instantly makes a movie or a TV show more interesting to me.  There doesn’t even have to be anything about the character that is different, personality-wise, to make me perk up and pay more attention.  But I am getting off the topic.  OK, let’s enter the Spoiler Zone!    

SPOILER ALERT: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!  YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A SPOILER RICH ZONE.

Though, to be honest, there’s not much to spoil with this film.

The first thing I’d change, would be the casting.  It’s so booooring to make these people all white.  If you happen to be friends with Michael Shannon, great!  Cast him, or cast one other white person to play a single white character.  Fine.  But only one white character among the lead characters.  You can’t tell me there aren’t good enough AoCs for this film, especially since it isn’t exactly Shakespeare.  The boy should ABSOLUTELY BE A PERSON OF COLOR.  Another magical white child story is the opposite of a strong choice.  Sorry–I don’t mean to sound like I know it all.  This isn’t a lot to know, really.  

THE BEGINNING
 
From here, I’d place the characters in the context of real life, instead of out of context, on the road, with zero going on character-depth-wise.  The child’s mother is the lead–she is a person of color, alone and raising her child as best she can while trying to understand why the child is different.  Helping her is a counselor from his school who stumbles upon the child’s powers by accident.  This counselor can be played by Michael Shannon or maybe a lady, even.  The key is that they are trying to understand what is happening to the child.  They are not just blindly doing what the child says.  In the original film, the parents had already resigned themselves to the child’s divinity, so they had no arc at all.  They were just the same throughout the film.  Part of how my parental characters have an arc is in trying to understand what is happening to the magical child.

One of the things the child does to perplex them is speak to someone who is not in the room–apparently.  In the beginning, the mom thinks he’s just got an imaginary friend, but when the child is able to project a hologram over the living room coffee table, they realize there is more going on.  The child explains the hologram is a map that shows where the Gateway is along with two different men, who are coming for him.  One of those men is very close to the center of the map–where the child is now.  The counselor asks the child where this information is coming from.  The response is “from my imaginary friend.”

“Yeah, I don’t think he’s imaginary,” the counselor character says.

Seeing that one of the two men coming for him is minutes away, they decide to leave.  However, the first man arrives before they can depart and he tries to shoot the mom and the counselor.   The child causes the bullets to pass through them harmlessly.

One of my big problems with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, as it was written, was that the kid’s powers are kind of nonsensical and uninteresting.  So, he can do this sort of Google Cardboard thing by shooting eye-beams into people’s eyes which then allows them to see things (what it is, we frustratingly never see).  This is creepy, sure, but that doesn’t make it particularly interesting. The child in my version has powers that are actually powers. Yeah, the kid in the film brings down a satellite, but it’s not clear at all that he did that until later when it is explained in dialog (more telling than showing again!). 

 
THE MIDDLE
 
After they escape from the gunman, they narrowly avoid running smack dab into the other guy who was seen on the holo-map.  That guy has a chance to stop them violently but doesn’t.  They get away and, that night in the hotel room on the road, all three wonder who that man was.  The child doesn’t know and can’t actually reach his not-imaginary friend.  He does know that the Gateway he showed them on the holo-map is where he needs to go, however.  The adults ask him what’s on the other side of the Gateway and he explains that he thinks its someplace wonderful.  Someplace he belongs.  He can feel it. (I know this kind of counts as “telling not showing” but this is minor next to what the original film does, explaining that there is another world on top of ours–ugh–and are there fairies and magic, too?? Why the do his parents trust his word?)

Then the gunman catches up with them.  Once again, the child’s powers allow them to escape only to run smack dab into the other guy on the holo-map.  This time, he is able to explain that he is a good guy.  He introduces himself as a representative of those on the other side of the Gateway.  He’s never been to the other side because once you go over, it’s challenging to come back.  The mom immediately becomes worried, asking: “How can my child go over, then?”

“That’s where I come in,” the representative says.  He goes on to explain that he can train the child to connect with the other dimensions that he is predisposed to sense.  He can’t connect to them normally due to a traditional human upbringing dulling his advanced senses.  The mom is concerned while the counselor shrugs his concerns off.  It’s all too weird to try to go against, he explains.  “I mean, think about what we’ve seen!” 

The mom isn’t convinced so she demands to supervise the rep’s sessions with her child.  The rep agrees and she gets to watch them meditate and practice martial arts at various places along their drive to the Gateway.  The rep explains that in order to become aware of the extra dimensions, the child must get in better touch with the ones he/she is used to dealing with.  After questions from the mom, the rep explains that he’s not sure if any human can learn to perceive these other dimensions. He certainly can’t, but he can train people like her child.  Like a paraplegic teaching someone how to drive.

The mom asks if she can see this world to make sure it’s safe for her child.  Rep explains that she can’t–at least, not in person,  but if the child gets in touch with his abilities, he’ll be able to show us the new world.  They continue training and traveling toward the Gateway as the bad guy catches up with them for a fun chase scene where the boy uses his powers to defend them and throw off the bad guy.

At one point, the bad guy is able to kidnap the child but he is quickly confronted by the powers of the child.  The child is able to see (and so we can, too) the bad guy, younger and crying as his boy is taken away by the representative.  We then see the bad guy joining up with other parents who have lost their children to this “next level” of humanity.  After the vision finishes, the child tries to explain that this is the best thing for children of the next level.  The bad guy doesn’t care.  He is driven.  The child temporarily blinds the bad guy and escapes, returning to the mom and they continue on.

 
THE FINAL ACT
When they finally get to the Gateway, they find it over a huge chasm (maybe over the Grand Canyon, budget-allowing).  As the child approaches it, a small blue disk appears in front of him.  It then grows larger and larger until it is bigger that the child is.  The child runs back and hugs the mom, shakes hands with the counselor, nods to the rep, and moves toward the disk.  Just then, the bad guy races out of nowhere, guns blazing.  The child stops the bullets in midair and turns, continuing to walk toward the blue disk.  Before he steps into it, he stares at it and speaks.  “I want them to see where I’m going.  And I want to him to see his child again.”

Suddenly, the air around them begins to crackle and flash (though nothing damaged from either).  Then reality fades from view, revealing a bizarre and psychedelic space.  They can suddenly see tiny particles floating around and no Earth beneath them.  They seem to be floating in some strange version of outer space but there are spheres and rings floating around them with light refracting everywhere.  Then, they hear an even more strange, ethereal voice:

“Here is your son,”  the voice says as a man in his 20s appears in front of the bad guy.  He smiles and is immediately recognized by his father who immediately begins to cry as they embrace.  The ethereal voice continues:

“It is difficult to make our reality comprehensible to you.  We can only do it for a short time, but we think you deserve it.  Thank you for seeing your child to us.  Your child will prosper here unlike in your version of reality.”

“Will I see my baby again?”

“With proper training, it is possible.”

The child hugs the mom one more time and then jumps through the disk.  The bad guy’s son vanishes and reality returns to normal.  The counselor and the mom hug.

THE END

My biggest problem with MIDNIGHT SPECIAL was that there was just no character development at all.  They were all flat and boring and almost none of their actions made any sense nor were they justified–at least not by anything on screen. My outline explains how I would tell the same story while making stronger choices plot-wise, presenting deeper characters, and allowing the audience to make sense of their choices.  Essentially, the audience needs to be brought along for the ride–in this film I felt more like a hitchhiker.

Was MIDNIGHT SPECIAL entertaining?  Well, some people liked it, but you have to admit, if they had done it my way, it would have been better and more special.

The Trouble with Trailers

We all know what trailers are.  When’s the last time you saw a really good one, though?  I can’t remember.  I’m shocked when I see a trailer that doesn’t make me roll my eyes at least once.  Even movies I like have trailers that are stupid.  When I saw TERMINATOR: GENISYS, every single trailer I saw before the film either gave me too much information in the form of spoilers or stupidity, or they gave me not enough information to determine whether or not the movie would be any good at all.  Is there a solution to this problem?  Or is it just really really hard to make a good trailer?

Last things first: how trailers get it wrong with giving us too little
Horror movie trailers do this all the time.  They give us snippets of scary scenes punctuated with quick fades to black, with shots that get shorter and shorter until they climax with a long shot of silence followed by something creepy happening.  Like someone whispering something or a random scream or some other contrived thing.  But almost invariably, they will leave out any actual plot points.  In front of that TERMINATOR screening there was a trailer for INSIDIOUS 3 (or maybe it wasn’t INSIDIOUS 3–I can’t remember for sure now–isn’t that telling?) and it included clips of people running around a house being scared but didn’t bother to clue in the viewer regarding what the hell the set-up was.  I can’t think of a recent horror movie trailer that hasn’t been like this.
The trailer for INSIDIOUS 3. This is probably not the 
trailer I saw in front of TERMINATOR: GENISYS. 
Like it matters. This still pretty much fits my criticism.
Trailers for dramatic movies will show us all kinds of dramatic scenes that may or may not explain the plot to us.  The trailer for THE JUDGE painted a picture of a father and a son who’s relationship seemed so dysfunctional as to not be interesting to me.  Maybe I’ve seen too many father/son estrangement/restrangement(is that a word?) movies in my life, but that trailer simply failed at giving me a reason to see that movie. 

The trailer for THE JUDGE starring Robert Downey Jr.
and Robert Duvall. I feel like this trailer could have
been better if RDJ’s  character were actually likable. 
Or if the trailer focused on ways this film is different
from other father/son conflict movies. 
When a trailer gives too much–and insults your intelligence
I haaaaate stupid movies.  So, maybe I am biased, but when a trailer shows me scenes where people are goofy or silly without establishing some sort of context, the trailer loses me.  I need more than just silly or goofy to make me laugh.  I mean, I’m not a 5 year-old.  Sure, prat-falls and some limited silliness can still reach me, but the stuff we feed our kids is just pitiful (see: THE MINIONS trailer).  The stuff we feed ourselves can be pretty bad, too.  Did you see the trailer for the latest VACATION movie?  What the hell was that?  Why was Chris Hemsworth walking around in just his underpants with a fake penis down them?  Because it’s a “joke,” not because it actually makes any comic sense at all.  And what is funny about a hot model in a hot car getting into a car accident? It makes the original VACATION look like the CITIZEN KANE of comedy. 

The trailer for the new VACATION movie.
I must be a comedy snob or something because I 
think this movie looks incredibly stupid but clearly
someone thinks this is funny.  Do you?

Sure people will laugh, but would you see the new VACATION in the theater?  Or save $15 and wait for Netlfix? I thought the idea behind trailers was to put butts in seats.  Isn’t it?  Maybe not…
When a trailer gives too much–and ruins it for you
My favorite example of a trailer that spoils the whole damn movie for viewers takes us WAY back in time.  It’s the trailer for LORENZO’S OIL, which came out in 1992.  The trailer was made by a person who clearly thought showing every emotional beat of the movie would tug our heart strings all the way to the box office.  Instead, it told a complete story of a pair of parents who discover their child is sick, who then discover there is no cure, but that there is some sort of experimental cure, which they try, which works and THE END.
I still remember sitting in my theater seat after seeing it and thinking “well, that trailer saved me the effort of actually watching the movie!”

The trailer to LORENZO’S OIL (1992) starring Susan
Sarandon and Nick Nolte. OK, so it’s not exactly how I
remember it, but close enough to make my point.
Why would I pay full price for a ticket to see this movie
when the trailer gives me all the feelz all by itself?
Sidenote: LORENZO’S OIL was directed by GEORGE MILLER.
Yes, the same George Miller that directed HAPPY FEET and 
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (and the other MAD MAX movies)
and BABE. What kind of film CAN’T that man direct?!?


What is a trailer really supposed to do, though?

You’d think the answer to this question would be obvious.  You’d think that the goal of a trailer would be to encourage people to see a movie.  If that’s true, then why do trailer’s suck so often?
They all look alike.  They all sound alike. 
How can a trailer sell you on a movie if it is edited almost identically to a dozen other trailers? 
I can’t help but wonder if the number of trailers that theaters run before a movie might have something to do with viewers having trouble remembering the movies they advertise.  I bet if there were two or three trailers before a movie instead of five or six, we’d have an easier time remembering them.
Fun fact: Did you know that the reason they’re called trailers is because they used to be run after movies?  It’s TRUE.
I feel like I’d have an easier time remembering movies if the trailers were still trailed the movie.  Or if the trailer was really good–that would help me remember a movie.

The trailer to TERMINATOR: GENISYS. SPOILER ALERT!
This trailer gives away a major plot twist that happens
early-ish in the film. The catch is, that twist is what got
me interested enough to see the film in theaters.
The good news is that, while one surprise was ruined,
So sad that I wrote a piece about it.
But I’m digressing.  On purpose, really.  Why? Because I’m putting off answering the inevitable question:
OK, Pete! Trailers suck–how do YOU think trailers should be cut?
I wrestled with this question before I started writing this piece.  My answer is lame:  I don’t know.
I’d like to say that making a good movie trailer is like making a good TV commercial.  However, you can’t give away the plot to laundry detergent.  I found myself considering the idea that making a good movie trailer might be harder than making a good movie.
About the best I can suggest is: cut together clips that set up the movie’s story and then STOP.  An example of a good trailer cut this way would be to cut one for STAR WARS that would show clips of Leia hiding the plans to the Death Star in R2, Darth Vader demanding to know where the plans are, then a shot of the escape pod escaping, then the empty escape pod in the desert with R2 and Threepio in the foreground, followed by Luke buying the droids from the Jawas.  Then, maybe a quick montage of gun battles, X-Wing dogfights and that’s it.
I wonder how a modern trailer editor would have cut a trailer for STAR WARS.  They’d probably give too much in the form of spoilers.

The original trailer to the original STAR WARS.
Uhmmmm… wow, this is pretty bad.
“The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe.”
So, trailers have always been crap?!?
Closing thoughts on the trouble with trailers
The funny thing is, I decide if I’m going to see a movie based on its premise alone.  I avoid trailers most of the time because I feel like they’ll only turn me off of a movie.  I saw the trailer for PROMETHEUS after I saw PROMETHEUS and was like “NOW YOU TELL ME!” 
Though, I probably would have gone to see it anyway because it’s a hard scifi movie and there aren’t enough of those.

Do trailers get people into theaters?  I don’t know.  I think most of them don’t.

The Problem with Pilots and How Solving it Will Make All TV Shows Better

Unlike a lot of pilots, the first episode and the first season of
BEING HUMAN did not suffer from Not Enough Planning
Syndrome.  Sadly, later seasons did. 🙁

There is a general understanding in Hollywood that TV pilots just aren’t very good.  There’s a saying in screenwriting circles that says “always start your script as deep into the story as you can.”

In Hollywood, today, the former is embraced while the latter is ignored.  At least, that’s how it seems to me. I’ve seen several first episodes of series that seem to have no idea what they’re doing.  When ever I mention this to other writers, what I usually hear back is the excuse: “Well, pilots always suck because they haven’t figured out what the story is or who the characters are.”

I wish so many of us writers weren’t so eager to defend half-ass writing.  I get that all that really matters is if people watch, but aren’t your story and characters things you should work out before you hand in your “finished” script?  And if you have a clear plan for them in mind, don’t you think that will make your pilot and any episodes that follow stronger and more likely to get an episode order?

Seriously: how can you defend the idea that it’s OK to flesh out your story and characters further into the series?  Too many shows suffer from Not Enough Planning Syndrome.  It’s so easy (though it’s also time consuming) to just sit down and answer questions about your story and about your characters.  Just make choices.  Your bosses/fellow writers will let you know if they don’t work or if they are just horrible directions to go in.  Figure out where your plot is going beyond the first episode and even beyond the first season.  The question to ask yourself is this: what is the long arc of both my story and my characters?

When Not Enough Planning Syndrome Strikes, We Are All the Victims!

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (the remake) started off really
strong but ultimately left this viewer unsatisfied. It’s safe to
assume that most viewers felt the same as the BSG spin-off
series, CAPRICA, only lasted one season.  q

A BBC show I fell in love with years ago was BEING HUMAN.  The first season was incredibly well written.  It seemed like the writer(s) had a clear plan and really had a  sense of who these characters were and where they were headed.  If the series had never gotten another season, I’d have been disappointed, but satisfied.  Well, the show did get a second season and, sadly, it was nowhere near as good as the first.  This isn’t Bad Sequel Syndrome–this is Not Enough Planning Syndrome.  I’m just guessing here, but the creator of BEING HUMAN was probably a little surprised that he got another season ordered and didn’t want to keep the Beeb waiting.  I don’t blame him, but his second season suffered for it.  And because he didn’t sit down and work out a long arc to span the next two or three seasons right then, the rest of the show’s run really suffered for it.  It suffered so much that by the final season, they’d cycled out all the original characters.  That’s right, none of the original characters were on the show by the end of the show’s run.  That is a sign of a serious lack of planning.

Sure, the show stayed on the air for 5 seasons (5 BBC seasons, which, for this show, were no more than 8 episodes per) but who is going to want to watch it again?  Or buy the DVD or download the show from iTunes?

I see shows making this same mistake in the US.  The BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot series insisted in the opening titles of every episode that the enemy robots had a plan.  Well, that plan was never really explained on the series and I have a feeling, the writers never actually had that plan.  Why else were the last couple seasons so mediocre and the finale so contrived and heavy-handed?  Like BEING HUMAN, BATTLESTAR started off really strong.  But, like BEING HUMAN, they just didn’t plan well enough, or far enough, ahead.

This is why we can’t have nice things

Like BLINDSPOT, the show builds in male dominance in the first episode,
further eroding the whole point of being a super-hero and thus making
viewers less likely to stick around.  Why would anyone want to watch a show
about a super-powered alien who has to ask permission from a human man
before she kicks some ass? You can have this dynamic in the past of the
character, but in the present, it’s just stifling for the writing and the viewers
who just want SUPER-HEROES, ACTION and FUN!

This year, I’ve seen a number of pilots that made it to series despite seeming to be, very clearly, still in their development stages.  One pilot seemed to excuse it’s own lack of planning by giving all of its characters amnesia, which is weird, since the show is based on a comic book.  Maybe they’re ignoring the comic’s plot?  In several pilots I’ve seen in 2015, we’re stuck, sitting through origin stories that 1) aren’t all that original and 2) violate that second thing I mentioned above, in my first paragraph: start your script as far into the story as you can.

Can someone tell me why the pilot to the new SUPERGIRL series starts before Kara actually decides to be a super-hero?  Why is she a bumbling goofball?  Why is she still in Superman’s shadow?   Everyone watching knows who Supergirl is, there is no reason to waste time showing how or even why she decided to be a super-hero.  Better to save origin stories like hers for when the writers run out of ideas.  Besides, the origin story they give Kara establishes that she’s been directionless for years, since she’s been on Earth.  Why not have her be a competent hero from the start?  Won’t that be more likely to inspire viewers to stick around?

In BLINDSPOT the lead female character
literally has the male love-interest’s name
written on her. Talk about a lame origin
story! Let me know when she has her free
will back!  Insult is added to injury with the
casting of her love interest. This guy is a
boringly handsome tough-guy (#cliché)
with two expressions: squint and non-squint. 

I knew I was addicted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe when I saw Steve Rogers be incredibly competent within minutes of getting his super powers.  He still grows as a person, but not from a level of incompetence.  Sure, in the beginning he’s a runt, but from frame one, his heart and mind are already Captain America.  His arc then becomes about how he deals with his powers and his role as a hero.

Meanwhile, the pilot for BLINDSPOT  begins with another amnesiac.  This one wakes up in Times Square, naked, covered in tattoos and relies on FBI agents to help her, despite her quickly discovering she is, in fact, Jason Bourne.  Oh, now that’s inspiring!  I can’t wait to see her ask her FBI handler for permission to be her bad-ass self in every episode.

Watching our heroes bumble through beginner mistakes is generally depressing and un-fun.  Waiting for the story to get to the event or idea mentioned in its title can be frustrating and perplexing (why is DARK MATTER called DARK MATTER, exactly???).  There is a reason George Lucas started with episode 4 when he started making STAR WARS movies. It was because, as we now know, episodes 1-3 just weren’t very good (not that I could not have written them so they were, but I digress).

Even if you have one of those great premises that is so wide-open that it would allow for an infinite supply of episode outlines, it still pays to plan.

Take PERSON OF INTEREST.  This is a show that has a very simple premise: guy builds a magic computer that feeds him the social security number of someone who is statistically likely to kill or be killed–it’s then our heroes’ job to save them or get them arrested.  Sounds perfect for a series, doesn’t it?  It could just be a bad/good guy of-the-week show.  But it isn’t.  It’s got a really tight story arc that has driven itself through several seasons of really good TV.  That long arc isn’t even evident in the pilot, but it is clear that they had a lot in mind in that first episode.  What’s great about that pilot is that it isn’t an origin story.  It covers how one of the show regulars comes to join the guy with the computer, but he has had a life before the pilot (a life that does come back to haunt him) and, as we eventually discover much later on in the series, he is replacing someone else.  So, the writers on PERSON OF INTEREST clearly understand that you don’t start your story at the very beginning.

I know–it seems counterintuitive, but it really does make a lot of sense.

I ignored PERSON OF INTEREST for a long time. I wrote it
off as a typical cop show with two white males with savior
complexes as the leads.  Which is what it is.  What I didn’t
know was how it would grow and evolve into a pretty well-
written show with a pretty diverse supporting cast. This
is most likely thanks to, you guessed it, planning well and
planning ahead. 

Remember THE X-FILES?  It’s first episode is an origin story, in a sense, but only in that it shows how Mulder and Scully met.  Scully was an active FBI agent before the episode begins and Mulder had been working on the X-Files for at least some amount of time.  From there, we get right into the grit of investigating unexplained phenomena.  Like PERSON OF INTEREST, the horizon seems wide open, but already, the show is laying the groundwork for the eventual long story arc that will carry us through several seasons of the show.

More recently, the folks behind ARROW have done really interesting stuff with structure.  The pilot starts with the rich guy putting on a vigilante costume and at the beginning of the story.

So, in the first episode of ARROW, the lead character is just returning from spending 5 years on an island where he mastered his abilities as an expert archer.  However, before the story gets too far in that first episode, we cut to five years earlier and see the much more immature character, before he became this stoic bad-ass he is in the present day of the story.  This isn’t so much a flashback as it is a deliberate narrative structure that manages to show us how Arrow came to be, and also gives us a more skilled version of the character so we can have fulfilled the promise of the show–quality vigilante violence.  Beyond that, the structure allows the more skilled version of the character to continue growing.  It’s really an impressive structure and I don’t know how they keep it going from episode to episode.  I’m glad more shows don’t copy it because I don’t think most shows could pull it off.  I know I’d have a hard time.

It took me a while to recognize what ARROW was doing,
structurally, but once I figured it out, I was hooked. It’s like
watching season 1 and season 6 at the same time because
half the show takes place 5 years before the other half.
Name one other show that does this.  I can’t think of any.

One thing though, the fact that the writers of ARROW can make it work and have for four seasons, pretty much guarantees that they have a plan and have pulled their point-of-view way back so they can really see that long arc.  Based on their choice to spin-off a FLASH series, a LEGENDS OF TOMORROW series, and a VIXEN animated series, I think those guys really did think things through.

Either that or they’re the most amazing story improvisers to ever work in TV.

The moral of the story is…

Plan.  Don’t think of a pilot script as just something you’ll bang out with the assumption that it will get changed a bunch before it gets shot.  You might as well make it good now.  Or, if you subscribe to the idea that you have to leave it imperfect so those asshole producers out there can “make it better,” fine.  Do what you need to in order to sell the thing, but have a plan in your head or on your hard drive, just in case.  There’s another rule in Hollywood: always have something else ready.  If you have a pilot ready, why not have that long arc ready, too?

What’s even better is that planning ahead lets you see where the best place to start your show is.  Maybe it is with the catalyst.  Maybe it’s down the road when the lead character has a new person enter their life that allows them to look at said life in a new way.  Maybe it’s even later when that person is killed in a car accident.  Regardless, a plan is a road map for your show.  It not only shows your destination, but gives you options as to the best places to depart.

Do some series end up being really good after their pilot sucked?  Sure.  But I don’t think anyone has counted the number of pilots that never made it to series.  After all, wouldn’t you be more likely to sell the show in the first place if you actually had a plan?

Netflix’s DAREDEVIL should be Cast Out (part 2)

This is part two of “Netflix’s DAREDEVIL should be Cast Out” (read part 1 first! It’ll make more sense!). Do I still think that since I wrote part one? Well, as I wrote both parts as one giant thing over the span of a few weeks, yes. Of course. This is not because I felt the acting was bad or the production or anything else was bad–aside from the script.

If you haven’t already read part one, go read it now. It includes a nice little spoiler-free mini-review that covers the basics of the mess that I think Netflix’s DAREDEVIL really is. It also covers:

Spoiler-rich, What Worked in Netflix’s Daredevil
Netflix’s Daredevil is a Man without Sense
Time to Pick a Couple Nits
My Problem with the Kingpin of Crime

In part two, we will cover:

Enough with the Origin Stories, Guys!
What really got my Blood Boiling About Daredevil
World Building and How Daredevil Screwed it Up
How I would have Written the first season of a DAREDEVIL show

OK, here we go with part two! Remember This is a SPOILER-RICH ZONEYOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Enough with the Origin Stories, Guys!

What is probably the biggest problem Netflix’s DAREDEVIL has, is that it’s lead character’s arc is too long and too boring.

How many times do we need to watch Matt Murdock get the crap kicked out of him before he becomes the character called “Daredevil”? When the final reveal comes for Fisk’s sinister plot, it’s like really not impressive. So, I don’t know why we had to wait so long to have Murdock put on the red suit. Clearly they were trying to go for something symbolic between Daredevil and Fisk, but their arcs simply did not parallel at all. Fisk was already the flawed but brilliant mob boss with his plan already in motion, while Murdock was still stumbling in and out of fights while everyone called him “The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” instead of what they should have been calling him: “Daredevil” and/or “The Man Without Fear.” (Again, I don’t care if that’s the way the comic was–in the live action show, it’s a weak choice and, as a viewer, frustrating to wait through.)

I mean, come on. The guy’s name is in the title, right? He’s called “Daredevil” NOT because of his connection to Hell’s Kitchen (though the irony is nice), he’s called “Daredevil” because his super-power allows him to be a daredevil. The way the Netflix version handles his origin story would be like having Peter Parker be called “the wall crawler” for 13 hours of screen time. Does that make ANY sense at all?

And those 13 hours are LONG compared to most other shows. I think they seem even longer when you watch them back-to-back. It’s just the same fights over and over. I mean, sure, they’re all gritty and stuff, but there’s nothing emotional invested in the fights. It’s always Murdock’s life that is at stake or some unseen innocent. And after the first couple of fights, I could not care less about Murdock because he was dumb enough to go into fight after fight without reasonable weapons or armor. In an age of competent Marvel heroes, Daredevil was very taxing to watch.

I think this may be the thing Netflix genre shows do wrong–there is a TON of redundancy here and nothing makes you feel it more than when you binge-watch the entire series over the span of a few days. The Wachowskis have the same problem with their SENSE8 Netflix series. So, I’m worried that it’s a trend.

Maybe if each episode had been released a week apart, redundant scenes would be OK and would function as reminders (like how it worked with Sony Playstation Network’s POWERS series). But all of the episodes available at once really hung a lampshade on the fact that the first 6 episodes should have been compressed into the first 2. There just isn’t enough interesting to stretch out across all those episodes. As a result, the entire first season is a failure as a “Year One” style story.

Sadly, that’s not the end of my problems, either. However, these final two issues are more subjective than my other points, but I think I have good technical reasons for my advice to be taken on them. First, let’s talk about the one that gives me away as a big old Marvel fanboy…

What REALLY got My Blood Boiling About Netflix’s DAREDEVIL

This is a huge fanboy thing, but, killing off Ben Urich broke my heart. I am not kidding you. If it had happened any earlier in the series, I’d have stopped watching. Period. The show was dead to me when they killed off Ben Urich. I only kept watching because there was only one episode left.

The thing is, Ben Urich is a fairly major guy when it comes to non-powered characters in Marvel storylines. I think he shows up in all of the more gritty NYC-based comics. I remember him from SPIDER-MAN and DAREDEVIL, but I checked his Wikipedia page and found that he was involved in the CIVIL WAR storyline, which the MCU will be doing in the movies, soon.

This is where I bring it back to the technical side of things. If Ben is used a lot in the comic-version of CIVIL WAR, then he’s going to be missed in the MCU version. But, even outside of that, having a classic, old-school, hard-boiled reporter around is great for telling stories of the big city, whether you are telling those stories inside the MCU or the Marvel comic universe or anywhere else. He’s like a film noir detective only with stronger morals. The archetype Ben Urich represents is kind of invaluable in telling urban-based stories. And now he’s dead to the MCU.

And Ben Urich was my favorite thing about Netflix’s DAREDEVIL.

I LOVED that they cast a black guy as Urich and Vondie Curtis Hall WAS GREAT! The scenes between Urich and his wife were so wonderfully sad and made me tear up almost every time! I understand that his death is supposed to be a tragedy, but the script has already provided us with enough tragedies. Mrs. Cardenas, Karen having to shoot that guy and feeling terrible about it later (LOVED that, by the way), and just everything being so gritty. We did not need to lose the strongest part of the show.

World Building and the MCU, How Netflix’s DAREDEVIL Screwed it Up.

This brings me to the final big problem I have with this show. I don’t think it fits into the MCU or the real world. First, with the killing-off of Urich. Instead of using the time-wise and life-weary Ben Urich (well established in the comic), the heroes involved in the CIVIL WAR arc in the MCU movie, will have to rely on the journalistic skill of some other reporter in the Marvel universe more obscure than Urich, or one just made up for the movies. Urich was a strong part of the comic universe and to kill him off just seems like a really weak choice. What the MCU has been doing right this whole time is keeping things fairly close to the comics. It’s not like the comics did a lot wrong. I mean, sure, they’re not perfect, but the comics have been around for half-a-century. They’re certainly doing enough right to keep people reading.

So, stick to the books, folks!

Then, there’s the fact that Hell’s Kitchen, in the real world, isn’t the hell-hole it was in the original DAREDEVIL comics. Since they shot it in NYC, we constantly see the real NYC, the clean NYC, the safe NYC, the NYC that exists for anyone who visits or lives in the real NYC. Full disclosure, I lived in Hell’s Kitchen for two months when I first moved to NYC and would have loved to have stayed in that neighborhood if I could have afforded it. It’s a great area and is pretty damn safe. The Hell’s Kitchen in the real world hasn’t been the Hell’s Kitchen Matt Murdock grew up in since the 80s. So, the first thing, Netflix’s DAREDEVIL should have done was establish that this is a wrecked Hell’s Kitchen, a different Hell’s Kitchen from the one in the real world. This is an important structural thing for any setting in any show or movie. The rule goes: show, don’t tell. So, let’s see the thing you keep insisting is real rather than just telling us about it over and over.

The most we get toward the establishment of a truly hellish Hell’s Kitchen is a lot of general talk about how it’s a hell-hole and how the entire area got wrecked during the Battle of New York. The thing is, we never saw how it got wrecked during the Battle of New York or even how it is wrecked. In the first AVENGERS movie, we are only treated to the partial destruction of random buildings around Grand Central. The movie never establishes how, or even that, Hell’s Kitchen is damaged. The producers of the very enjoyable AGENT CARTER series actually included footage from CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER movie in some of the episodes to help establish Agent Carter’s place in the MCU. That was great because it helped the series feel more a part of the MCU. We needed something like this for DAREDEVIL–both to establish its context inside the MCU and to show how Hell’s Kitchen is as bad as the dialog keeps claiming. This is like screenwriting 101 stuff.

I’m sure I’m partially biased because I know the real Hell’s Kitchen, but I was looking for visual cues that told me this was a horrible place and I just couldn’t see any during the exterior scenes. When we visit Mrs. Cardenas apartment, sure, that place was horrible–but that just made me wonder why she wanted to keep living there.

In the end, this show just didn’t feel like it was existing within walking distance of a major alien invasion.

OK, Pete, Dare to Tell the Class How You Would have Written DAREDEVIL

First off, I’d ditch the whole “year one” structure. Pretty much everybody hates origin stories these days and stretching one out to 13 episodes is really hard to do well. While CW’s ARROW managed to do it for 3 seasons, they literally balanced that origin story with the much more developed Arrow character in the present-day scenes outside of the flashbacks. Beyond ditching the YO structure, I’d establish the show as a show that is one-part action and one-part lawyer. Daredevil is NOT Batman. He has to work to eat. In the Netflix version, I had no idea how any of them could afford to keep their lights on or afford to pay their booze bills (and they did drink a LOT–what the hell was that about? Doesn’t anyone play video games to escape anymore?).

I’d make sure everything starts off really well for Murdock, both as Daredevil and as a lawyer for the little guy. But, pretty quickly, I’d start his descent into hell. As the first season progresses, I’d have him start losing more and more cases due to corrupt judges, cops, etc, and more and more lives due to mob violence. In the beginning of the series, he’s a one-hundred-percent competent hero (with his fully developed radar sense from the comics) leaping off buildings (like in the comics) and busting heads, but the more his lawyer-life falls apart, the more distracted he becomes as Daredevil until he loses everything by episode 10 or 11. Then he gets his ass handed to him in a fight and finds himself at St. Agnes’ Orphanage, where a nun discovers him and nurses him slowly back to health. From there, he wages a final battle, of sorts, with Fisk. He ends up winning, but only barely (Fisk hires actual bad-asses from the comic, like Bullseye and/or others). Back at the orphanage, the same nun is very relieved to see that he survived, though he did take a beating, and once again starts to nurse him back to health. The mini-climax comes after the big fight climax, and is when he tells the nun about his life story. He senses her heartbeat and notices that it skips whenever he refers to never knowing his mother. He then realizes the nun is his mother. But there should be no dialog. It should only be on Matt’s face that he’s finally found her.

The stinger at the end (every MCU project needs a stinger at the end) somehow shows that Elektra (the assassin from the comics) has arrived in NYC.

In Conclusion…

Do I really think Netflix’s DAREDEVIL should be cast out of the MCU? Yeah, I kind of do. Though now, it’s not just because of Urich’s death, but also because, in the great scheme of the MCU, this show was just a big fat “so what.” It doesn’t connect with the MCU in any meaningful way and doesn’t have much interesting to say on it’s own. Honestly, it left me longing for a SPIDER-MAN TV show, which I know, I’ll never get.

Was Netflix’s DAREDEVIL entertaining? I suppose so. Some people liked it. But wouldn’t it have been better my way? You know, with an actual story instead of just really uninteresting character arcs?

Netflix’s DAREDEVIL should be Cast Out (part 1)

OK, that title may be a bit strong, but I do feel that way, if for just one reason. I’ll get to that one reason in a bit. Other than that one reason, I still think Netflix’s DAREDEVIL series is a mess. Obviously, it entertained a lot of people, but for this comic book reader, it was tedious and meandering and, honestly, pretty misleading.

As this is a series that is effectively 13 hours long, there is a LOT to say. So, I’m breaking this up into two posts. This post will cover the following:

My spoiler-free mini-review
Spoiler-rich, What Worked in Netflix’s Daredevil
Netflix’s Daredevil is a Man without Sense
Time to Pick a Couple Nits
My Problem with the Kingpin of Crime

Part two will explore:

Enough with the Origin Stories, Guys!
What really got my Blood Boiling About Daredevil
World Building and How Daredevil Screwed it Up
How I would have Written the first season of a DAREDEVIL show

Already read Part 1? Check out Part 2 which is live now!

Spoiler-Free Mini-Review

My mini-review is that, as an action show, it was really well made. The action sequences were realistically staged and felt more like real life than anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The acting was nearly perfect. I had a few issues with both Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio’s choices, but I stopped caring about the ones with Cox as the show progressed and the ones with D’Onofrio only got worse as the show went on. More on that, also, in a bit.

Honestly, I was left a little flat by the show, both as an adaptation of the DAREDEVIL comic and as a TV show. When I said it was misleading, earlier, I meant that this show is called “DAREDEVIL” but it really should have been called “MATT MURDOCK” because of how not like the comic character he was.

I’m not a huge fan of the comic, but I read it for a few years back in the late 80s/early 90s. I know the character’s abilities and origin story and really thoroughly enjoyed how he was a kind of blue-collar Batman. To be clear, I am no expert on the comic character. That said, the show does stray from the comic that I remember in many places, so using “that’s the way it was in the comic” should not be used to excuse a weak choice in the Netflix version. Honestly, I found the comic book version much more fun and intriguing. His powers were much more developed and understandable in the comic than in the Netflix version. I understood how he could be fearless. In the Netflix version, he just came off as kind of an idiot.

I know Daredevil got his ass handed to him a LOT in the comic. The thing is, somehow the Netflix version didn’t manage to make him seem dauntless, so much as stupid. To go into more detail, I need to take you into a spoiler-rich zone. You have been warned.

SPOILER-RICH ZONE BEGINS NOW: Enough with the Comic Comparisons, What Worked with Netflix’s DAREDEVIL?

I loved the relationships. I got where everyone was coming from and genuinely enjoyed seeing them interact as humans. The really nice thing about the Netflix-model for episodic storytelling is that you don’t have to break for a commercial. You can let your scenes run a little longer and it’s great. In the first few episodes I LOVED Matt’s discussions with Claire and Foggy. I really dug D’Onofrio’s choices early on. Loved loved loved them. More than that, I ADORED Vondi Curtis Hall’s take on Ben Urich. Urich is probably my favorite non-powered Marvel comics character (SPOILER ALERT: it is how the show treats this character that makes me think Netflix’s DAREDEVIL should be tossed in the trash and done over–more on this in part two of this review).

I don’t have a problem with the general idea of the series–to be a sort of DAREDEVIL: YEAR ONE kind of thing. The problem with that is, it ultimately doesn’t work. And that’s my biggest general problem with Netflix’s DAREDEVIL. It was the most boring, repetitive origin story EVER. It made me long for the runtime of Ben Affleck’s DAREDEVIL movie. My wife, at one point, looked up the Netflix DAREDEVIL hashtag on Twitter and found many tweets echoing the following sentiment:


“JUST GET TO THE GODDAMN SUIT!”

See, he goes into every fight scene wearing, what looks like, a black, skintight, Uniqlo Heattech shirt and cargo pants but brings with him no actual weapons. Sometimes he uses sticks (similar to the baton(s) he uses in the comics), but not often enough.

I know I said I wouldn’t mention the comic again, but I will for just a sec. In the comic, he can “see” pretty clearly, but in a sort of 360-degree view of his surroundings. As I recall, this is referred to, as his radar sense. In the Netflix version, he doesn’t have such a clearly fleshed out power. In fact, the Netflix version makes one brief mention of him seeing “a world on fire” and we see just a single shot from his point-of-view, but the show never really establishes the mechanics of how he is able to see. Effectively, the chemicals that made him blind as a child really didn’t do anything for him, as they did in the comic. There are loads of stories about blind bad-asses in modern myth, and those guys didn’t have special powers to be bad-asses. I’d bet Netflix’s Daredevil would get his ass handed to him by Zatoichi, the legendary blind swordsman from Japan.

Now ZATOICHI,  he’s a man with no fear. Netflix’s Daredevil is a man without sense.

So, for the first 6 or 7 episodes of the series, we see Daredevil go into fight after fight, coming out with stab wounds, gun shot wounds, covered in bruises and blood, and worse. In one scene he is dragged across the floor by a hooked blade. The only explanation for his survival each time is that he meditates and therefore can heal faster. Sorry, that’s ridiculous. First, because he takes no time to actually heal on camera–we never actually see him doing his meditation to heal.

The second reason “speedy-healing-thru-meditation” is a ridiculous explanation, is because it would be so easy to explain it away by saying, simply, that the same chemical that made him blind also strengthened his body’s ability to heal itself. We don’t even need to see anything on camera for that explanation, but to say he meditates to survive his repeated beatings and then not even show him doing it? Honestly, him surviving and healing so quickly really dilutes the realism of the fight sequences. Especially, when you factor in the following.

Along these same lines, we also have the question of “why no protection?”

We see that he does have some protective gear, but none of it is actual body armor. When Claire asks him why he doesn’t wear armor, he says “it slows me down.”

That’s just as ridiculous as the “make-boo-boo-go-bye-bye-via-meditation” explanation. It slows you down? So speed up, idiot! What’s worse? Getting stabbed in the armor because you were too slow or getting stabbed in the flesh because you weren’t fast enough?

And Netflix’s Daredevil is NEVER FAST ENOUGH.

He’s the most incompetent fighter there is. Batman studied martial arts in Asia for years and still fights using gadgets, a cowl and a cape. Matt Murdock spends a couple months training with the white Zatoichi and then heads over to Uniqlo and Sports Warehouse to gear-up. Good plan. Oh, you’ve got some red on you… and sadly, that’s not your costume.

So, you can probably see how I had real trouble sticking with Netflix’s DAREDEVIL at this point.

Sad thing: I’m not done yet.

Let’s Pick a Couple of Nits

I’d like to go into some depth on Charlie Cox’s American accent for a moment. Now, I know a lot of people didn’t even notice it wasn’t precisely spot on, but I did–especially in every scene he had with Rosario Dawson, who is a native of New York City. Now, he didn’t need to sound like he was from Brooklyn or whatever, but he really needed to sound like a New Yorker. I kept hearing those little tip-offs that an actor from one side of the Atlantic was pretending to be from the other. It’s the way they pronounce the “r” sound. It’s like it’s just way too enthusiastic. It’s not pirate-talk, but it’s distracting around other American characters and especially other New Yorkers. Then there’s the thing where he says something like “evrathing” instead of “everything.” It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

Ultimately, it’s a minor complaint, but accents are important to a character that really can’t live anywhere but the Big Apple. It’s part of who Daredevil is as a person. Matt Murdock is a New Yorker. Period. Yet, in this show, he sounds like he spent a ton of his formative years in New England. Or old England.

Somewhat ironically, he’s supposed to be a ginger and of Irish descent but Cox is English and has brown hair. Whatevs… I could have easily looked past both of these things if it weren’t for me getting stuck on the REST of this show. Let’s drop the nits and continue with…

My Problem with the Kingpin of Crime

My problem with the Kingpin of Crime was that he wasn’t in this show. Well, he was and he wasn’t. I mean, was there a reason no one called the Kingpin “The Kingpin”? Was it one of those things like how they had to use the name “David Bruce Banner” on the 70s HULK TV show, because “Bruce Banner” sounded gay? (This is actually what Stan Lee says happened and not any homophobic editorial commentary on my part.) Or is it because the name “The Kingpin” went with the rights to SPIDER-MAN, when Sony bought them? Regardless, I started out really loving D’Onofrio’s Kingpi–I mean–his Wilson Fisk. He was really perfectly cast. I often found myself flashing back to D’Onofrio’s truly astounding performance in FULL METAL JACKET. He made Fisk instantly likable and fascinating yet sinister at the same time. It was like in FMJ, where you just knew his character has a ton of scary in his head and it’s just a matter of time before it gets vomited out.

So, I loved Fisk for a long time–that is, until the script went and ruined it. The writers made the mistake here of thinking Fisk needed to be humanized. He did not. D’Onofrio’s performance already made him plenty human. I’m guessing that the writers didn’t realize this would happen and, so, we are subjected to the most boring, cliched origin story ever. I read SPIDER-MAN comics from childhood but stopped in the early 90s when they did that whole stupid clone plot. I don’t ever remember reading about Kingpin’s origins. He was always plenty fascinating to me and he was one of my favorite bad guys in the Marvel universe. So, I don’t know if the origin story they gave him in Netflix’s DAREDEVIL is taken from the comic or not. All I know is that it sucked.

Having an Abusive Dad does not Make You the Kingpin of Crime

So, in order to humanize Fisk, the script employs these flashbacks (I know, ugh, everyone and their uncle is doing flashbacks these days–remember when everyone used to agree that flashbacks were always bad ideas? I miss those days). In thede flashbacks, we learn that young Wilson murdered his wife-beating father. This is supposed to be the key to his personality and totally distracts from the honestly brilliant use of the blank wall. See, when Wilson got in trouble as a child, his dad would give him a time-out and make him face a blank wall. Later in life, he stares at similar blank-wall-like things to help him deal with every day stress. It’s a great device and is really the only good thing that the flashbacks bring to the table. Everything else is cliche and distraction.

It wouldn’t ruin things if his origin story was still killing his wife-beating dad, but to waste screen time on it was, I believe, a mistake. Especially since it really doesn’t tell us why he’s such a violent man or why he wants to remake Hell’s Kitchen/NYC, according to his own vision. There are plenty of people with violent dads in the world and you don’t see all of them turning into crime lords. What makes Fisk go in this direction? There is a vague suggestion there, but the malevolence he feels toward some characters is not explained. I don’t we need it to be explained, which is why I feel it’s odd that they tried.

The final problem I had with Fisk was not D’Onofrio’s fault, any more than the flashbacks were, but this may seem, specifically, like a dig against D’Onofrio. After the flashbacks started, the script starts to give him these laboriously long speeches where he just goes on and on, forcing poor Vincent to ACT through all of them. At this point in the series I stopped flashing back to Pyle in FULL METAL JACKET and went further back to Sydney Greenstreet in, well, any movie where he sat around chewing on scenery. When Fisk’s penultimate scene arrives in the police van, and he starts to tell the entire story of the Good Samaritan I think I literally yelled at the TV screen: “OH, SHUT UP!”

Seriously, that was the worst bit of spoken subtext since I watched, well, any sitcom on the Disney Channel.

It was bad enough he was basically admitting he is an evil guy (who does that?!?) but to do it in a long, drawn out way, it’s just kind of insulting to the audience. I mean, like I yelled, SHUT UP already. Jeez. You’re a giant bald gangster. We get it, you’re a badguy–you don’t need to hang a lampshade on top of another lampshade.

That’s all for this post! Tune in next Tuesday for part two when I will talk about the following:

Enough with the Origin Stories, Guys!
What really got my Blood Boiling About Daredevil
World Building and How Daredevil Screwed it Up
How I would have Written the first season of a DAREDEVIL show

Thanks for reading! Please don’t stop and please tell your friends about Pete Saves! THANKS!!

Fixing “FROZEN.” Yes the Disney Hit is Great but Could Have BeenGreater.


WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead! If you’re one of the three people on Earth who have yet to see “FROZEN,” please proceed with caution! I try to avoid mentioning major plot points, but we all define the word “spoiler” differently, so you’ve been warned!! By continuing to read this, you absolve me of all responsibility for possibly ruining the movie for you! That said, I don’t think I will…

So, I really enjoyed the Disney’s latest CG animated movie. It really resonated with me in a few ways that I suppose I should be embarrassed by–what with me being a male who is thoroughly into adulthood. However, there were some huge problems with that film. Three, to be exact–three missed opportunities with story, humor and music.

I’ll start with the part that I am least qualified to criticize–the music.

I can’t sing and I’m not musical, really, at all. However, I am married to a professional singer and actress who happens to be immensely talented and knows her stuff. One of the main complaints from her about the film was that the music had an over all “pop” feel that really clashed with the setting of the story. I agree with this. What’s more is that the film sets up a musical theme in the very first scene which it then quickly abandons. It was a shame, since I don’t know anything about folk music from northern Europe and it would have been nice to hear a style of music I haven’t already heard too much of.

That said, I tend to forgive the music, as the lyrics and context generally make up for it’s poppish, somewhat cliched sound. In fact, I was very pleased to find that the songs in “FROZEN” generally don’t fall prey to what I call “Single Plot Point Syndrome.” I’ve seen a lot of musicals in my day (as the son of a huge fan of musicals and the husband of someone who has performed in quite a few of them). I loathe songs that exist solely to remind us over and over that a thing has happened. My favorite example of this is from “PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.” That one song about them having a masquerade? I’m not sure why that needs to be a whole song. They’re having a maquerade. Yes, indeed. We see them in masks as they sing it. Why do we need this song?

I think the only song that sticks out in my mind as being afflicted by SPPS in “FROZEN” is the song Olaf sings about what he would do if he could experience summer. It’s such an adorable song, though, so I didn’t mind it. Or I wouldn’t have minded it if it weren’t for who sings it.

This brings us to my second criticism about “FROZEN.” That stupid f**king snowman. I know! I know! There is a HUGE contingent of Olaf fans out there. One of my favorite blogs even claimed Olaf was the best thing about “FROZEN.” But he isn’t. He’s the weakest thing.

If not, why isn’t he in the whole movie? He shows up a third or maybe halfway in. Sure, there’s the Proto-Olaf they build as children, but he doesn’t turn into a chirpier version of Woody Allen until he inexplicably shows up when the sister and her guy pal go looking for Elsa in the mountains. And when he does, he brings buckets of laughs, right?

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Well, not to me, but that’s beside the point. Sure, the hipsters sitting next to me in the theater laughed their asses off at Olaf, but that doesn’t matter. Not to me. Why? Because we already had an awesomely warm, funny, comic-relief character–the reindeer. Yep. He was charming, had great timing, and really lightened the mood nicely. He wasn’t even a talking reindeer so there was much less to strain my suspension of disbelief. I think if I was a little kid, I’d have an even easier time imagining this adventure could have really happened. As an adult, I just didn’t know why Olaf was there.

Elsa didn’t really create him. I mean, I guess she did with her sister’s help when they were little kids. But that’s not what I mean. When the Fairy Godmother in “CINDERELLA” conjures Cindy’s dress, it’s a dramatic, beautiful moment. When Elsa conjures Olaf, it happens off-screen. What the hell is that?

So, I say cut the boring, cliche-ridden character out of the film entirely. It works just as well without him. Either that, or make him matter more and put less of an emphasis on how he’s the comic relief. Every single joke he has hits the punchline on the head. None of it seems indigenous to the situation, really. It’s like he’s a little Deus Ex Joke Machine wondering through the story. That is, until he actually does become useful toward the end of the film. But really, I think Anna could have gotten out of her situation on her own. She is a wonderfully competent character, after all.

While I do feel that Olaf really did ruin every scene he was in, for me, I don’t think he was the biggest mistake of “FROZEN.” The biggest mistake of “FROZEN” was how they handled Elsa’s at-home-exile.

Once her parents lock her up, the focus of the film abruptly shifts to her sister and stays there for far too long. The film expects us to assume that being locked away is inherently unpleasant. Which, I suppose is fine, but it’s not that interesting, is it? Plus, if we had seen what she went through as a person, cut off from the rest of humanity, it would have made her “coming out” song in her ice castle that much more triumphant.

Just imagine the scenes where she sneaks out of her room and accidentally freezes dinner or almost turns the maid into an ice statue. Imagine she has a few more break-out attempts where she is soooo very much tempted to go over to the dark side, but she doesn’t. In her heart, she’s still a good person, so she goes back inside (literally and figuratively) on her own. Exiling herself–which she can then use to help fuel her rejection of her responsibilities to lead and keep her power in check. It would have made her break from “civilized society” that much more interesting and her motivation that much more ambiguous. Has she truly gone evil? Obviously, when she sings her “Let it Go” song, we’d know she hasn’t. But it’s called “drama,” right?

Wouldn’t all of that have made her character so much more interesting?

As she is, she’s a great role model for girls, which I definitely appreciate. However, she could have been a much more resonant character for everyone watching. It’s almost as though the filmmakers felt pressure to make her a typical Disney princess.

Well, that’s how I would have fixed “FROZEN.”

While “FROZEN” is a legitimately enjoyable film, you have to admit, it would have been a better movie like this.

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