A Dreamer Walking

The Superhero Problem!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 31, 2011

There are so many problems with the superhero frenzy going on in Hollywood this summer. I have seen X-Men: First Class, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, and all of them reek of cliche plot, stereotypical protagonists, and plastic feeling worlds. All of them involve the good guys saving the world from sure doom at the end. We get more then enough visual effects, action sequences, and romantic love interests, but we hardly see any heart or personal touch by the directors and writers of these films. All these movies have completely predictable storylines where the characters only goal seems to be moving the plot along. None of these films give us much to think about or make us want to come back and explore the world more thoroughly.

Hardly any of the character arcs in these superhero movies are believable. Charles Xavier in the X-Men: First Class movie has this unreasonable understanding of the human race, so even though the humans want to exterminate the mutant population Xavier wants his X-Men to fight for the good of man kind. In Thor we see the “spoiled brat who learns to care for others” storyline. However, the only real reason Thor ends up wanting to fight for the humans is because of a girl we hardly are given time to know. In the movie Captain America we are shown a young shrimpy looking man in Steve Rogers, who gets beat up a lot. For some reason however Steve still has this unfailing belief in America and he wants to fight in World War II. When Steve Rogers becomes Captain America he does everything right, he is that nobody who became a somebody. The only problem is we are given little reason to care for him. The filmmakers for these films seem to forget it is not about what the audience sees on the outside that makes the difference, but rather the true impact comes from the growth we see and feel deep down in the characters soul.

The audience will not care for characters like Charles, Thor, or Captain America, if we do not buy into who they are. Instead of starting us off seeing Steve Rogers get beat up by a bully in the ally and refuse to run away, why not show why he is willing to get beat up? Sure, Steve verbally says in the film he doesn’t run away from bullies because if you choose to run they will never let you stop. But film is not about verbally telling us why a character is who he is, film is about visually showing us. In all these superhero movies we need to see and buy into the why factor. We need to understand why they are who they are. We need to see why Steve Rogers does not run from a fight and why he has this unconditional belief in America. We need to see why Charles Xavier has this belief in the good of mankind. We need to see why Thor is so interested in this girl he meets on earth.

Before any of the heroic stuff happens we need to find a way to relate to the hero. Too many of these films seem to want to show the hero as some sort of God who can do no wrong. This need for unrealistic perfection is shown in so many ways; their hair is unreasonably perfect, everything they do seems to succeed, and they have no doubts in what they stand for and what they are doing. We do not like superheros because of they are perfect. We don’t even like them because they have super powers. We like them because they remind us of ourselves. Inner struggle and the overcoming of human flaws is what makes a superhero a Superhero. The superpower should only reflect the struggle within. The powers are not always blessings. We need  to see the struggle that comes with a professor who can read everyone’s thoughts, a prince who has a nation relying on his actions, and a small city boy who is suddenly hailed as this American hero.

These superhero movies are too caught up in love interests and evil villains. For some reason Hollywood thinks every superhero movie needs to have a super villain. Sadly, the super villain ends up taking a huge amount of time away from the superhero. I think the Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise has done the best when it comes to super villains and knowing how to structure them around the superhero. The Joker, the greatest of the Batman villains, was not even introduced in the first film. They did this because they first wanted us to get to know Batman and see what he stood for before introducing us to his greatest challenge. The Joker along with the Scare Crow from the first Batman film, were only used to enhance our understanding of Bruce Wayne. A great super villain supports the superhero. However, in movies like Thor and Captain America there was a lot of time spent with the villain, but little of that time gave us insight into the protagonists of the films.

There are no rules telling the filmmaker to have a super villain in a superhero film. One of the greatest conflicts a superhero could have is just facing the real world. This leads to my other problem with the latest superhero films. None of the worlds feel real. I couldn’t believe how much killing was going on in the X-Men: First Class film without us hardly seeing a drop of blood or having a few moments to reflection. In Thor we were introduced to such surreal worlds everything felt possible but nothing felt believable. The City where Thor lived and the Frost Giant world had nothing to do with our world. Because we were not able to connect to those worlds, very little we saw in those worlds felt worth anything to us. There was hardly anything that made me feel Captain America took place during World War II. The Germans didn’t talk German, the environments all looked too clean and fake, and instead of regular guns and 1940’s technology they had lasers and other technology more superior then anything we have now. They made movie of World War II feel like a sci-fi film. Captain America had no grit or realism to it. The filmmakers wanted to show a war without the true brutality that comes with war. This made what Captain America did feel much less heroic or entertaining.

A key to creating a good superhero film is sticking to reality as much as possible. We need to feel like we can relate to the fantastical parts of the movie and you do that by grounding the fantastical in reality. The story of Thor called for a curtain amount of abstraction. However, this abstraction could have had more elements of our real world incorporated into it. Instead of all the environments looking like brand new sets, we could have seen a bit of wear and tear in them. We need to see wear and tear in the characters as well. During the big Frost Giant fight scene at the beginning of the film, one man gets injured and everyone else seemed to be fine. After the fight Thor is strong enough to argue with his dad and get banished to earth. The costuming for Thor was so extreme hardly any of it seemed reasonable. There is a difference between what works in a comic book and what works in a live action movie. It is the director and writers job to translate drawings into real characters, objects, and environments. We might buy into a half naked drawing of a powerful superhero in the comics, but on film that would just look trampy. Comics are all about hitting one strong pose after the next. In film however it needs to be a fluid motion, as if the actors are not shooting for poses but rather something that feels natural for the character they are portraying.

In Captain America:The First Avenger I wanted to see Captain America be part of fighting a real war. They did not need to go all sci-fi with his story. The actual events of the actual war brings plenty of drama in by itself. I wanted to see how Captain America would react to losing a mission. I wanted to see how he would react to needing to sit with a friend while he died of a gunshot wound. I wanted to see Captain America’s reaction towards a concentration camp or a town that just go bombed. I wanted to see a character stand for the ideals of America all of us wish we could could stand for, and then I wanted to see those ideals get tested in every way imaginable. I think it is a filmmakers duty to stick at least a little bit to the material they claim to be portraying. In no way am I saying make Captain America a Schindler’s List film. However, I believe the more true to the actual war the filmmakers could have been the more heroic Captain America’s actions would have been.

I want to feel like I am along side these superheros. I want to see them as humans just like me. They do not need to save the world for me to fall in love and be entertained by them. They just need to fight for something I can believe in. The greatest part of a superhero is not their cool costumes, magnificent powers, or inability to fail. They should all fail, just like we fail at times. The greatest part of the superhero movie in my opinion is when they fall and are at the lowest place imaginable…….they get back up.

If done right superhero films can inspire. They can help us understand no one is perfect but anything is possible. They can help us understand the responsibility that comes with the power we have as free individuals. All in all, they can entertain us in a much more thorough and impacting way.

Foundations

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 28, 2011

Foundations consist of the core values in your films. They represent what you want your movie to be about. The stronger you make the foundations of your story the stronger of a film you will have. I have found my faith to be a help to me in understanding what is important in the stories I am developing. I want each one of my stories to reflect values that are important to my God. However, I am not saying you need to become a Christian to create strong foundations, but you do need to figure out where you stand and what you want to communicate before you embark on creating or telling a story.

David Fincher, who I mostly disagree with when it comes to political and moral issues, is very adamant on figuring out the reason for each word in the script he is about to shoot. He spends several weeks just talking to his screenwriter about what both of them feel are the foundations of the story and how the screenplay reflects those foundations. Because David has put a lot of thought into his movies, films like Se7en, Fight Club, and The Social Network make statements not easily ignored by society. They make you see dark truths about society. He has shown how we as society are inclined to sacrifice friendship for power, meaning for safety, and morality for comfort. It does not matter if I agree with his personal view of the world or not. I am forced to think about the statements his films make because they have conviction behind them.

I believe the foundations of a film should represent things you believe in your heart are true. The filmmaker needs to let these truths lead his or her way. Even though Fincher concentrates on the evils of society his foundations and the points he makes feel real and truthful because they are real and speak the truth to him. It is all about knowing you believe in what your film is saying and being committed to to that belief.

The bottom line is you need to know why you are making the film you are making. As Andrew Stanton (Writer/Director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E) says, you need to know the punchline of the joke in order to know how to set the joke up.  The foundations might not come right away. You can’t know everything you want to say in a film until you begin to make it. However, work from the parts of the film that seem to work the best for you, that stay the same all the way through development. Those parts are usually the parts that represent your films foundations.

I have written papers on the the foundations of each one of my stories I have been developing. Through figuring out what I feel is most important to my stories I began to realize what needs to stay and what needs to go. I think films should be more then just a piece of entertainment. I think they should be something that sticks with the audience far after they leave the movie theater. If you build your stories on strong foundations they will last far longer then any lifetime.

Blog Status

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 25, 2011

Well, I have been working on a few blogs actually but none of them are working out very well yet. So, I thought this would be a good time to explain to whoever reads this blog what I have been up to and where I am going.

First off, I hope whoever reads this blog has found most of the posts helpful. The reason why I do this is so I can get my thoughts out onto paper in a essay format. I want to have a clear thesis, a clear beginning, middle and end, and I want to be provocative and grammar efficient enough in my writing for people to pay attention until the end of the post. If you come here often you know there have been a series of posts on Directors I have been studying and a series of posts on a book called Invisible Ink I have been reading. My plan is to keep on going with those series. However, before I get back to those series I have chosen to go through all of the notes I have been taking in the last two years.

I am huge on studying commentaries, filmmaker interviews, and behind the scenes footage before I begin to write about a director or idea I have been contemplating. In the last two years I have filled up ten notebooks with notes from all these extra features. However, one of the great things about taking notes is you are allowed to go back and study them. I have study some notes if they involve a director or idea I have been writing about, but all in all there is a good 80% that I have not come back to whatsoever.

The next few weeks (or maybe months) will be dedicated to going back through my notes. I will be posting blogs as well but some of them might be shorter then my usual and they will be covering a whole slew of subjects. I will get back into full swing with my Director Observation posts and Invisible Ink posts as soon as I am done with going through my notebooks. This is sort of a overwhelming task, it has taken me several days to get through just one notebook and I migrated to bigger notebooks sense 2009. So, bare with me. But, I think there is quite a bit of knowledge in my notebooks that has barley been explored. I am also looking forward to comparing notes from the past to the way I see things today. I have found that I concentrate on different things now then I did in 2009 and I write down much more now then I did in 2009. It is encouraging to see my note taking technique has improved in the last two years. If you want to read about my philosophy taking notes just click on this link.

I am looking forward to coming back to my Director Observation series. I have been studying some directors quite extensively but have written little if anything about them. Some of the directors I am hoping to explore in much more detail on this blog is Tom Hooper, Ridley Scott, Danny Boyle, and Darren Aronofsky. I also hope to return and write a few more posts on directors like Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese. I still plan on finishing my Invisible Ink series. I am a little disappointed they have not been as popular as my Observation posts. I consider most of the Invisible Ink posts to be very important on figuring out the art of storytelling. Even though the author of the book Brian McDonald concentrates on mostly just writing screenplays, I try to concentrate on both writing and directing film. If you want to see the posts fallow these links: Invisible Ink-Beginnings, II-Simplicity, II-Is Something There?, II-Don’t Tell Me SHOW ME!, II-Be the Drama Queen, II-Finding the Reflections, II-Finding Salvation.

So after that shameless advertising and explanation on where I am at and heading, I think it is time to end this post. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them and I am looking forward to walking deeper into the medium of film with you guys.

Keep it cool!

 

Notes on Taking Notes

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 18, 2011

I thought I would give you a list of suggestions on taking notes. Going through my notes from about two and a half years ago I have realized I have gotten much better at taking notes and have worked out a system. I don’t know if my system will work for you but you might find some of these points helpful. Enjoy!

  1. Leave Room for Clarity: Thank goodness in most countries paper is not too expensive. I made the mistake of buying small notebooks my first few months of taking notes on films. The notebooks did not give me much room for clarity. For the most part my notes looked like a jumbled mess. However, I eventually learned and I now use Five Star Wide Ruled notebooks (You probably could find them for a cheaper price just going to Wal-Mart). These notebooks are very much worth the extra price. They give you room to clarify what the notes you are taking are for. I start at the far left of the page and begin to write, I leave a extra space blank when the filmmaker I am listening to is going on to another subject. However, if the subject is connected with my last note I simply go down a single space and tab a few spaces over and begin writing. Make sure to tab to the right before writing so you know you are addressing a separate point even though it is connected to the same subject. Do not write on both sides of the paper. If you write on both side of the paper you will always be struggling to read your notes because most of the notes on the other side of the page show through. You will be leaving space if you go about writing this way but the space I think you will find is helpful, especially when returning to your notes months or years later.
  2. Create a Clear Heading: Make sure you post the valuable information on the head of your notes before going on to write anything else. If you are taking notes on a Charlie Rose interview I would suggest you write something like this for your heading: Charlie Rose: Steve Jobs and John Lasseter: 1996: You can underline this title and then begin with your note taking. If taking notes on the commentary, state the name of the movie and then the names of the people composing the commentary along with their jobs on the film. The reason for this is because you want to know clearly what you took notes on so two years later you don’t mistakenly watch the same interview again. You also want reference so you can look the interview up again if you need to get a quote or piece of information from it.
  3. Stay Organized: This sort of involves my last point. You must try your best to stay organized with your note taking. I try my best to leave sections open in my notebook for curtain directors or filmmakers I am studying. It is much easier to go back and look at notes I wrote about someone like Steven Spielberg if they are all in the same section rather then scattered all through out my notebooks. This is the reason why it is wise to study only a few people at a time rather then jumping all over the place. Another reason it is important to have a clear heading is so you know when you are moving on to a new interview. Dating interviews is also a good idea, you will most likely find the person you are studying has changed his or her view a little bit depending on the year the interview or commentary was taken. When it comes to organization all the little things count. You do not need to spend forever preparing to take notes on a interview, but the more organized you are the more time you end up saving when coming back and trying to understand your notes.
  4. Write in First Person: No matter if you are quoting the person word for word or not I would suggest you write in first person while taking notes. Rather then saying, “Ridley Scott says,…”, just begin to write what Ridley Scott says. You can miss a line or two, make it a little more understandable for you, and you can abbreviate at times, but the objective should be capturing the person you are listening to voice, not yours. You don’t need to feel conflicted on whether you agree with what he or she is saying, that is not the reason you are taking notes. I believe you should be taking notes to hear that persons perspective. I write down what the filmmaker says and think about it later. I actually like the idea of them having different philosophies then I do, some of which I agree with and some of which I disagree with. For the most part, if I want to speak from my point of view I write in parentheses and let the reader know what I am saying is from my point of view. I also come back to my notes with sticky notes, this is when I begin to flesh out what the filmmaker said with my perspective. Make sure you make it clear who is talking, especially if you think they are making a good point. You do not want to write in a paper or blog post Ridley Scott said something only to find out later it really was his writer Steven Zaillian who said it.
  5. When in Doubt Write it Down: I write down everything. I rather be too detailed then not detailed enough. For one, writing things down usually helps you remember what was said. You are sort of repeating the information and processing it while writing. Remember, you do not need to agree with everything you write down, you just need to think it valuable enough information to come back to or remember. Do not be afraid to hit pause on the remote and take a few minutes to write down what has been said. I personally spend more time with the video paused then playing when I am taking notes. You can use some abbreviations but make sure they are clear enough so they are understood when you come back to them years later. You never know what information you will need down the road. If you think the point the person is making is really good, I would suggest you write down word for word so you can quote him or her on a later paper or blog you write.
  6. Figure out a Highlight System: It is always good to go back to your notes and highlight what you feel are really good points. However, I would suggest you figure out a highlight system for writing in the moment. This might mean you should carry a highlighter while writing notes. However, I find quicker and more useful ways of highlighting points are by just writing stars on the side of the post and circling the star a few times depending on how good of a point you feel it was. I even have began to draw little arrows to the main points I find in the interviews. I draw arrows only about five or six times during a interview. I want to be picky with what I consider really good information so if I am in a hurry reviewing my notes I know exactly what to look at. Also, I am sure you will find it interesting when looking back on your notes years later, what you thought was a really good point and what you felt was just worth writing down. 
  7. Write a Small Review: After each one of my commentaries or interviews I write a review of the material. You might think this is a bit obsessive, but I find it helpful. First I rate the material I just looked at from a scale of 1 to 10. If I give it a “5 out of 10” or lower that means I think it is hardly worth watching and I probably don’t even need to review the notes. If I have it a 8.5 out of 10 or higher I probably will post the interview if possible on my blog because it is valuable information worth hearing. I also think it is just good to write about what you thought so you begin to clarify in your own head what you learned. Sometimes after writing about the material I change the rating and make it higher or lower because I have thought through what I have just seen a little bit more.

Well there you go. If I think of a few more notes on how to write notes I will add them to the list. I think this will be useful for some. Feel free to give me advice on how you take notes. Ignore what you don’t think is useful and try what you think might be useful. Each person has their own style. However, it is obvious from seeing my notes from two and a half years ago, some styles need to change.

The Power of Wonder

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 14, 2011

“Satisfaction is the end of desire”

I first heard this quote come from Steven Spielberg when he was on Inside the Actors Studio.  I think far too often filmmakers make the mistake of feeling they need to satisfy all their audiences needs; all the questions need to be answered and everything you show needs to be explained. However, I find when films give the audience all the answers there is no wonder left and when there is no wonder there is no interest….. and if you have no interest you have a empty movie theater :/

Steven Spielberg talked about the longer he could hold the audience in suspense the better. Every movie has suspense. Whether it is through the question of, “What kind of monster is going to come around the corner” or “What is this character going to choose to do”, we as filmmakers are demanding the audiences attention through the power of wonder and suspense. It is the filmmaker job to learn to use the power of wonder and suspense wisely. If we give the audience too much information they have no reason to keep watching the movie. However, if we do not give the audience enough information they will leave and not be coming back.

An important thing to understand is the audience brings their imagination with them to the movies. It is not our job to show the audience all of the world the characters live in, we just need to show them some of the world and they will create for themselves the rest. It is not our job to show the audience all the hardships and happiness our characters have gone through, hint to a little and the audience will imagine a lot. As filmmakers our job is to guide the audience. We must understand the audience can think for themselves, we just need to give them something to think about.

The best kind of movies for me are the ones where I feel every character I see has a story worth telling. Great films like the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars series give plenty of wonder for us to carry away from the movie theater and think about for days on end. One of my favorite pass times as a kid was going outside with my brother and continuing the stories of the movies we had watched. Of course we would improvise and create our own plots, but we were originally inspired by the worlds and characters we saw on TV and in the movie theater.

In every story there needs to be a curtain amount of satisfaction. As I said before, if you do not give the audience enough they will not be coming back.  However, movies should not give you stories with a beginning and an end but rather a beginning with no end. Do not ever make a movie where an audience member is looking at his watch wondering when the film is going to get done. Keep them wanting more. The story keeps on going on even if the chapter is finished. We are not supposed to tie everything up into a perfect bow for the audience but rather keep on giving them a reason to come back to the worlds we have awoken. It is through wonder that people keep on returning to the movie theater. They do not want to be entertained just for two hours. They want us to create something they can keep going back to and even show their kids someday. We as filmmakers need to inspire, so other filmmakers can create worlds and stories we can’t even imagine. Wonder is what keeps us living and wanting to explore. We must constantly remind ourselves we work in a medium of wonder where there are no limits.

humility

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 12, 2011

Humility brings perspective, allows us to learn, and strengthens the story for a filmmaker. Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E, talked about the importance of being humble through out success. Pixar maybe more then any other studio needs to keep themselves at a even key in order to create great stories. Andrew Stanton along with the rest of the directors at Pixar would be the first to tell you there are no Walt Disney’s or Steven Spielberg’s at their studio. What Pixar relies on is the Brain Trust. The Brian Trust consists of many of the top artists, directors, and writers at the studio working together for the sake of the story. For the Brian Trust to work, there needs to be a mutual respect for each other. One guy can’t put himself ahead of another because he has been more successful publicly or has come from a more popular art school.

The humility of a student is what filmmakers need to have all the way through their career. I have studied Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, and the Pixar directors, they all have had a curiosity for the world and somehow they have found a way to stop their success from interfering with their vision. All these filmmakers put the heart of the story above all else. When you relies filmmaking is about a group of people working together for the sake of the story you begin to have the perspective needed to create a great film.

We must all be servants to the stories we are telling. This is where the humility needs to come from. We must always relies through out our success that we still serve something greater then ourselves. I believe the stories we tell as filmmakers are not originated from us but from something greater. I can not claim credit for all the stories I have floating in my head. I believe they come from the people around us and from God. As a Christian I believe I am serving God by telling my stories. I believe my stories are a part of a greater whole. The whole concept of storytelling is amazing to me. We can create completely new worlds, characters, and stories in our heads and we can show them to the world with just a few words or images. The worlds and characters I work on seem to start having a life of their own after a while. This origination of life I can’t claim credit to. I believe more in the idea that the worlds and characters I am working on right now are already out their, it is just my job to find them.

No matter what you believe you must humble yourself for the sake of the story you are telling. No matter how successful you might become, treat each film like it is your first. Be students of film like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and the directors at Pixar are. All those guys would say they are students of film first. They constantly watch and learn from movies. They are constantly trying to figure out how to tell their stories in a better way.

Our medium has the potential to create breakthroughs in peoples lives, yet it also can keep people stagnant. With film we can ignite hate towards others or bring understanding. Our medium influences the direction of nations.  Everything depends on the way we treat the medium. Will we treat the medium of film arrogantly or with humility? Treating the film medium with arrogance will help neither you or others. Humility brings on understanding and breakthrough. If we are humble through out the filmmaking process we will find fulfillment in the people and stories we serve.

Spielberg Tribute

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 9, 2011

Here is a link to a GREAT interview of Steven Spielberg. It just happens that J. J. Abrams and James Cameron are asking most of the questions. Let me tell you guys it does not get much better then this. Grab a note pad and get ready to listen to some invaluable advice. When it comes to studying filmmakers you can not get much better then Steven. (Click on the photo to go to the video)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Thanks On Animation for the link)

Cars 2- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 4, 2011

Cars 2 is mediocre. It is the kind of film I thought John Lasseter swore he would never release let alone help direct. I have heard Lasseter talk constantly about story being the most important thing in his films, yet Cars 2 seemed more influenced by a man’s boyhood fantasies of seeing his cars actually shoot missiles and blow thing up than by any beckoning of the heart to show us a story that absolutely needed to be told. In fact, in Cars 2 we see John Lasseter often sacrifice story and character development for more chase sequences and gun shooting. I can’t help but think the reason why Cars 2 was so mediocre was because John Lasseter is the big boss at the studio now. Could it be that the Brain Trust does not have a great influence on Lasseter because he does not need to worry about losing his job if he does not listen to them?

It is through constant revision that a great piece of art is made at Pixar. The flaws of Cars 2 seemed quite obvious to me. The plot was more oriented toward action then character development. The film was introducing too many new characters and locations. We had so much to concentrate on and it was all going by so quickly we could hardly appreciate any of it.  The new characters such as Finn Mcmissile and Holley Shiftwell were underdeveloped. Both expressed a great deal of secret agent skills and they of course had a lot of cool spy gadgets, yet both had very few character traits that made them feel unique or relatable. Pixar has shown they are willing to give their movies time to mature, to go from being good to great. John Lasseter said in a interview that the development time for Cars 2 was about three years, yet at times Pixar has had films in development for more then a half a dozen years. Why was Cars 2 not given any more time for revision?

Maybe Cars 2 was exactly the kind of film John Lasseter wanted it to be. If this is the case I am very concerned. The overall storyline seemed to completely dismiss the lesson learned in the first movie. The first Cars movie was about taking the time to appreciate the small things in life. In the first film the race car Lightning McQueen was so concentrated on racing he did not know what it meant to have a relationship or find enjoyment in the calm parts of life. In Cars 2 McQueen wants to take a break from racing yet is convinced against doing so by the same friends who taught him the necessity of slowing down in the first film. We saw Lightning McQueen go through three races in Cars 2 and he wasn’t even the main star of this film.

The star of Cars 2 was Lightning McQueen’s best friend Mater. Mater is a rusty old tow truck who has a heart of gold. However, when Mater goes out with Lightning to experience the world he sticks out like a sore thumb. The great lesson of the movie seemed to be something like “don’t be afraid to be yourself no matter where you are“. However the theme is a bit weak sense “being himself” gets Mater into a lot of trouble. In the movie Mater somehow gets mistaken as a American spy pretending to be a tow truck. We go through situation after situation of Mater about to be killed and barely getting away through other agents saving him or blind luck. Mater is also part of McQueen’s cockpit crew but gets distracted and loses the race for McQueen. There is a point where we begin to think as audience members Mater needs to stop being “himself” and grow up or he is going to get himself and many other people hurt. The Pixar people seemed to have a hard time balancing Mater’s role as the main source of humor for the film with the need for him to be a multi-dimensional character who carries the film emotionally. We also don’t see how “being himself” really influences the characters around him. Mater did not hang out with McQueen enough for us to see how McQueen’s perspective changed through Mater’s influence. Mcmissile and Holly Shiftwell, Mater’s spy buddies, give lip service to Mater’s effect on them but very little is seen visually. Mater was too busy doing spy work to have a great effect on Mcmissile or Holly. There was a effort by the filmmakers to have Mater show some knowledge for car mechanics, which impresses Mcmissile and Holly, yet these character traits seemed to do little in effecting the characters deep down.  At the end the two characters come briefly to thank Mater for all he has done and then fly off on their next mission.

The humor for this film seemed to also be lacking. A lot of the jokes went over my head, like when Mater says “Is the Popemobile Catholic”. The film seemed to be in a constant “hurry up” mode so the audience could hardly appreciate any of the punchlines of the jokes Mater told or situations Mater was in. If we were given half the action and twice the amount of time to appreciate the beautiful scenery and characters I feel the movie would have been much more fulfilling. It should not be about, “How much action can I pack into this movie”, it should be about getting quality entertainment out of the action you have supporting the story. When the action is used to support the characters’ development and theme of the story, we begin to get interested. Mcmissile has several daring action scenes in Cars 2, however the audience is never really given a reason to invest in Mcmissile. He is a one dimensional character with no background and no reason for why he does what he does. Are we supposed to like Mcmissile because he is voiced by Michael Caine? Or because he is a cool looking car model? Those things lose value with time and can only take an audience of this generation so far.

In Cars 2 it is obvious that Lasseter wanted to create a spy movie. The movie is packed with action sequences where the main characters barely get away again and again and again from evil “lemon cars” (cars with mechanical defects). The lemon cars mission is to destroy all the fuel resources not connected to them so they can have a monopoly on the world’s fuel. The secret car agent Mcmissile will go to any extreme to spoil the enemies’ plans. We literally see Mcmissile kill several dozen cars in this movie. I guess since all the cars he kills are “bad guys” its okay. However, a “G” rating seems to be very irresponsible for all the gun shooting, exploding, and killing that goes on in this film. We are given the premise that these cars are living and breathing characters. With this premise there should come some responsibility. Why should we value these cars if John Lasseter and the crew are not willing to do so?

Pixar has created eleven strait box office and critical hits. With their twelfth feature film they created a dud. Cars 2 is hardly worth watching. I have long been an advocate for Pixar. Pixar has long been a place where I envisioned starting my career. Through all the director changes I have read about and management criticisms I have heard, I have stood behind Pixar because at the end of the day I believed they had the most dedicated artists and produced the most quality films of any studio in Hollywood. Many of my storytelling and filmmaking foundations have come from Pixar. I keep on thinking about what effect Cars 2 has had on my concept of Pixar and my future ambitions to work for the studio. I am sure Cars 2 will make a lot of money, I just never felt Pixar put money above good storytelling. I wonder if they are beginning to let the business side of Hollywood corrupt their creativity. As I said at the beginning of this review, I feel like Cars 2 was the movie John Lasseter said he would never let out of the studio. Now that he has I wonder what is next?

Invisiable Ink- Finding Salvation

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on July 2, 2011

As a Christian I believe in the concept of finding God and being saved through Him. Unlike most Christians I do not think you can find salvation through saying a few words, “I believe in Jesus”. In reality I believe salvation is a continuous journey. The journey is full of ups and downs and many of the lessons are quite hard to learn. Salvation in my opinion is not about being saved from a hell after you die, it is about finding God here and now and learning to truly live through following Him.

I see most stories as a salvation stories. The main character of most stories is forced into a journey where he somehow finds himself and his (or her) reason for living. You see it happen again and again in film. A good example would be Dead Poets Society. In Dead Poets Society we follow a boy named Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) who is very insecure with himself and tries his best to be unnoticed by anyone. However the great plot twist in Todd’s life comes when he is introduced to two people, a roommate named Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) and a English Professor named John Keating (Robin Williams). Neil and Professor Keating begin to push Todd out of his comfort zone. They push him to realize and express his talents and become a individual rather then part of a collective who’s only goal is to stay alive, without really living.

You can not have a journey without struggles. Todd must face his fears in order to get past them and find life. Brian McDonald in Invisible Ink refers to this as ritual pain. Ritual pain represents the pain the main character goes through in order to find salvation or fulfillment. McDonald uses the examples of tribes in Africa having rituals for boys going into manhood. Many tribes have their children go through some kind of pain to be considered a man. Sometimes it is some kind of scaring or tattooing. Sometimes it involves sending a child off on a hunt for a beast. Usually the children learn something through going through these pains that helps them prepare for manhood. They often feel reborn and ready to deal with the challenges of adulthood. In most films we symbolically observe the ritual pains of a child becoming an adult. Whether it is a old man who needs to open himself up to relationship after his wife passes away (Pixar’s Up), a spoiled business man who needs to see value in others (Rain Man), or a boy who needs to stand up and find his own voice (Dead Poets Society), we are seeing characters who are going through a ritual pain in order to find salvation on the other side.

“Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die”, D Nix (quoted in Invisible Ink). Most all of us would say we want to live life to the highest extant, yet few of us are willing to get off our butts to do anything. In film the ritual pain usually comes against the protagonists will.  Todd for example if fine with not being noticed, its Neil and Professor Keating who push him to go through the ritual pain of becoming a man. Neil convinces Todd to join the forbidden Dead Poets Society and keeps on pushing him to become a bigger part of the club. Professor Keating wants Todd to express himself through writing and poetry and gives him the assignment of standing before the class room to recite a poem of his making. Professor Keating tells Todd in the movie that he knows this assignment scares the shit out of him. The task is indeed Todd’ ritual pain. It is a vital scene in the movie where he goes from being scared of hearing his own voice to realizing he has something worth saying. Here is the scene from Dead Poets Society. Notice how Professor Keating expresses to his class and us the audience exactly what Todd is scared of the most. Through exposing Todd’ fear Keating is able to help Todd face it.

Professor Keating is not just telling Todd to not forget what we just saw, he is telling all of us to not forget. This scene represents what is so great about the movies. Movies are not supposed to keep us where we are comfortable. The best kind of movies in my opinion are the kind that push us out of our comfort zone. Seeing the transformation of characters like Todd are supposed to help us in our own transformations. We can learn from the entertainment we see. Seeing how others find God helps me find Him in my own life. Characters like Todd inspire me. I see them face their greatest fears and come out on the other side.  Movies like Dead Poets Society, The King’s Speech, Reign Over Me, and Schindler’s List, are the films that impact me the most because I see people in those movies who truly find salvation. They find God in their own personal way and through finding Him they are able to truly live.