Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Am I Fair? Day 1

In case you missed yesterday’s announcement, my book “The Secrets of Story” is coming out November 2016 from Writer’s Digest Press. As I finalize the manuscript, I realize that I need help with a few things, so I hoped that I could reach out to you. If you can help, thank you so much! Let’s start with a few days of memory-checking (and hopefully these will be fun to read.)

In the book (as on the blog), as I make my points, I breezily (and sometimes contemptuously) recap various movies I saw once a long time and ago and draw some lesson. But am I remembering these movies correctly, and are my judgments fair? I don’t want to rewatch all of these movies just to double-check, so I thought I would tap into your hive mind. If you have seen these movies, does my memory and judgment jibe with yours?  Here are the first four, taken from random spots in the manuscript:
  • The movie adaptation of V for Vendetta has many problems, but one of the biggest is the baffling decision to start Portman’s character off as a strong, independent go-getter assistant at a TV station where her biggest problem is an unrequited crush on her boss. We’re supposed to believe that this happy-go-lucky girl will soon decide to become an anti-government terrorist leader?
  • In Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, the great Charles Laughton plays a bloated, cynical hedonist named Graccus, who is more interested in aesthetic pleasures than the moralistic rhetoric of his fellow senators, but he discovers his conscience at the worst possible time: he realizes that it is now up to him to take a stand for democracy by martyring himself to protest the rise of tyranny. When we last see him, he picks out a knife to slit his wrists with…but then he wrinkles his nose: the knife isn’t pretty enough. He chooses a more aesthetically pleasing knife, smiles, and then goes to the bathtub for a luxurious martyrdom. 
  • Bruno in The Child is an aimless junkie who discovers that an ex-girlfriend has just had his baby, so he immediately goes and sells the child on the black market in order to get money for drugs. Later, he is truly shocked to see how upset she is and he tries to get the baby back. At one point in this process, Bruno is forced to wait in a back alley before the person inside will speak with him. There’s just one problem: Bruno can never wait around for anything. He can’t sit still for a second—That’s his whole problem. But he doesn’t whine about this problem, he finds clever ways to solve it. When he is told he must wait five minutes, we instantly sense that this is like a prison sentence to him. We share Bruno’s anxiety as he looks around desperately for something to do. Then he spots it: a mud puddle by a white wall. He goes over, soaks his boots in mud, then leaps up against the wall repeatedly, putting black boot-prints all over the wall. This happily occupies him until they come to get him. Problem solved. Fools can be so clever.
  • The movie version of Daredevil is ridiculous. In the comics, Daredevil and Electra are college sweethearts who cross path many years later only to discover that they’re now on opposite sides of the law. The movie cuts out all the history, but still has them sparring like old lovers from the moment they meet. They meet in a café, flirt like crazy, then walk outside and start playfully beating each other up in a playground. It’s hard to say which is worse, his decision to beat up a random woman who turned down his advances, or her desire to beat up a blind man! Once again, the writers were on autopilot.
What do you think, can I get away with these summaries? My goal is to be strictly accurate in my summaries. Do I need to track down and rewatch these movies or these scenes?  If you’ve seen any of these more recently than I have, please let me know yea or nay in the comments. Hopefully I can get more than one thumbs up on each one that passes the test. Tomorrow: More snark!


Steve said...

To the best of my recollection I think you're right about V For Vendetta, although she is the type of woman to sneak out past curfew in the first place, as she does in the first scene (not that it's the same thing).

Unknown said...

I wish I could help. Unfortunately, I have never been much of a movie buff ( I know, lame...)

The Mysterious Pi said...

In V for Vendetta, I got the impression they wanted some irony to Evie's character, so they made her an employee of the media machine that's as much a part of the villainy as the villains themselves. Then, at the end, you should get a meaningful reversal. But her role/aspirations in the media were so downplayed that it comes off as plot contrivance and not a change of values. It might have been more powerful to have her start as someone using her wiles to climb the corporate ladder (reversal later: when she has her head shaved, etc.). But that might also have turned the film into a referendum on women's sexuality, which I think we've had enough of. Although that didn't stop them from having her dress as a child to abet the murder of a paedophile, so... I don't know.

It's been a long time since I've seen Spartacus, but I think you've got to consider what the film was really about, which was the Red Scare and the US civil rights movement. For me, Graccus's choice of a finer knife was a comment both on the hollowness of the gesture (for many reasons), and a pointed comparison to a death afforded by the fruits of slavery, as compared to the violent deaths of the slaves themselves. One of the thematic climaxes of the film, for sure.

I haven't seen The Child, but maybe Bruno's solution is also character commentary: even if clever, his solution is selfish, indulgent, and destructive.

Daredevil's just shite. Sorry, can't help you there.

Fred Salmon said...

I would be careful with Daredevil, comic book fanboys are the worst. First of all, her name is spelled with a 'k' , Elektra. Secondly, there have been so many incarnations of the comic book story and their relationship that a statement like, "in the comics, Daredevil and Elektra are college sweethearts..." might be dangerous because it's probably been retconned a million times... even though that take is the most famous one (and I believe was Frank Miller's original story). Just my two cents -- otherwise your assessment is 100% correct.

Brian Malbon said...

Re: V For Vendetta
I think that you're being too hard on Evie. You're thinking of her aa character in a story that has to fit a formula, ethers in the world of her film she's starting off as a young person living in an imperfect system and trying to succeed regardless. Remember that at this point she's unaware just hope deep the rabbit hole goes in terms of the evils her society is capable of. It's also much easier when you're attractive, upwardly mobile and financially secure to turn a blind eye to what's going on around you. Being a rising figure in the propaganda machine at the start makes the horror of her descent and the realizations that come with it hit harder. Also recall that Winston Smith worked even higher up in the media machine in 1984, the granddaddy of distopian fiction.

Comics vs movies are notorious for scrapping all but the character names and rebuilding a narrative that barely resembles is source material, but Daredevil is a particularly bad example. I don't hate the movie, and I actually enjoy long stretches of it, but it would have been far better from a character and a believability standpoint to find some other way to bring those two together - and maybe scrap the schoolyard fight completely. It's an unforgivably silly moment.

Matt Bird said...

Thanks to everyone! Keep it coming.

And thanks for pointing out Elektra's spelling! That's the sort of thing that would have easily made it into the book. I should have remembered, since it was infamously misspelled on the cover of her first appearance.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

That moment in Spartacus is one of my favorites. So much great stuff in that movie.

Justin Walsh above nailed it about V for Vendetta, doesn't he? Dang.

If you want to protect yourself a bit more from the nerdlinger "well, actually" brigade regarding Daredevil, you might want to tweak this line: "Daredevil and Electra are college sweethearts who cross path many years later only to discover that they’re now on opposite sides of the law." It's the "of the law" part that's sticky.

Murdock was always a vigilante outside of the law, so they're both criminals but for very different reasons. In her first story, she's a paid assassin. Maybe reword it to "...only to discover that he's a superhero and she's an assassin for hire" or something like that. It's hard not to make it sound goofy, what with it being a goofy situation. He's mostly on the side of the law, but not entirely.