Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Keys to a Successful Film Franchise: Key # 5 - Longevity

With Hollywood franchise crazy, I felt I'd lay down the five things that all good film franchises need to do in order for them to be successful.  In other words the Five Keys to a Successful Film Franchise.  I started this series the other day illustrating the first four  Keys:  Concept, Characters, Worlds, and Continuity.  I did this by using my five favorite film franchises of all-time:  Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, and The Thin Man.  I will also be using these franchises to illustrate the final Key as well.  While I wont always be praising these franchises and will often use individual films in the franchises to show how not to do a film in a franchise, at the end of the day not only do I love majority of the films in these five franchises, I think in terms to adhering to the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise, they have been the most successful at implementing them.  With that all said, it's time to wrap up the series with the fifth and final Key.  Key Number Four, which is Longevity.


5.  Longevity
The final key to a successful film franchise is the simplest to understand -- longevity, or in other words, the ability to make sequels, prequels, and spin-offs.  Hollywood wants to keep their franchises alive forever, and fans do too.  The trick with the fans, though, is not rushing out haphazard sequels or spin-offs, cause otherwise the fans will nail the filmmakers for it.  Bottom line to achieving longevity, is always making everything tied into that franchise of high quality.

Nothing can hurt a film franchise worse than a bad film in that franchise.  Every film franchise always has a low point, but I think you could argue that there has never been a poorly made entry in any of the five franchise I've been using as examples.  While some might complain about Indy being nuked in a fridge, the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton eras of 007, or the Prequel Trilogy in our favorite far away galaxy, at the end of the day, those were all well made films and it's why all of these franchises are still so beloved.  These franchises understand the most important principle to longevity, quality.  Many would be franchises have gone the way of the dodo because the studio or filmmakers did not treat the material with the right amounts of respect or good filmmaking techniques, and the franchises suffered for it.  How many poorly written films with lousy dialogue and overtly predictable plots exist in our current world?  Most of these films were lackluster sequels to actually good movies, or they were films made in hopes of launching a franchise and fell flat on their face.  Why?  Because they just weren't good films.  Now, another thing about quality, is it adds another kind of longevity to these franchises, shelf life.

Shelf life is kind of like an expiration date.  Some movies come along and they're fun for a while, but after they've aged a few years they're just not good anymore, this is because more and more films come out that are similar and way better.  This happens all the time, but through quality filmmaking, these films gain a shelf life.  Quality movies are timeless, it's that simple, and as long as people watch movies, they're going to want to watch something of quality.  The quality movie may not appeal to everyone, but it's the thing that makes movies classics and therefore makes people want to watch them time and again.  This is shelf life, and it's why it's another important element to longevity for a franchise,  However, in order for a good film franchise to also achieve longevity, the franchise must also feel limitless.

What do I mean by limitless?  I mean, there needs to be that feeling, that even if it's a finite franchise and the story is done, there is still that potential for adventure in this world.  Sure, Harry Potter has defeated Voldemort, but as long as there is magic there will be dark wizards to fight.  Nothing makes me think that there still aren't many more adventures to be had.  The same with Star Wars.  As long as there is the Force, there will be Jedi and there will be Sith, forever embroiled in battle.  For neverending franchises this is even simpler to grasp, seeing as how there's almost always a new case for Nick and Nora Charles to investigate, or a new artifact that Dr. Jones needs to find, or a new secret mission that only 007 can accomplish.  Of course, while a good film franchise needs to give you the feeling that it's limitless, it also needs to act on those feelings and deliver.

In many ways, what makes Star Wars the ultimate film franchise of all-time, is that George Lucas did not stop with the films.  Sure, you could conceivably keep making new Episodes of Star Wars every few years for as long as time exists (which seems to be Disney's plan with the new films), but Lucas also took it beyond film by commissioning writers and artists to create books, video games, comic books, and TV shows, that expanded upon the world, filled in the gaps between movies, and created even more lovable characters and fascinating planets to explore.  Lucas also did this with Indiana Jones and the same has been done with James Bond.  The two film franchises that have really dropped the ball in this area are The Thin Man and Harry Potter.

Honestly, since it's been nearly seventy years since the last movie in The Thin Man franchise, any sequel or remake would probably pale in comparison without William Powell and Myrna Loy, but there's no reason someone couldn't write a book picking up where the movies and novelist Dashiel Hamett left off.  Then with Harry Potter, JK Rowling could do everything that George Lucas has done with his franchises by expanding the wizarding world beyond her books and films, but to do so would probably require bringing in other writers and I don't know if she'll let anyone else take care of her baby.  Even so, how cool would it be to see a detective show on TV about the aurors in Harry Potter hunting down dark wizards?  I'm just saying, the possibilities are endless and even if the possibilities aren't always fully explored, at the very least, that feeling of endless possibilities is the final thing that grants a film franchise longevity.


So there you have it, the Five Keys to a Successful Film Franchise:  Concept, Characters, Worlds, Continuity, and Longevity.  I hope you've found this series informative and fun, because I had fun writing about it, and it's really given me a lot to think about too in my own writing and filmmaking practices, as well as my own filmgoing experiences.  Till next time!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Keys to a Successful Film Franchise: Key # 4 - Continuity

With Hollywood franchise crazy, I felt I'd lay down the five things that all good film franchises need to do in order for them to be successful.  In other words the Five Keys to a Successful Film Franchise.  I started this series the other day illustrating the first three Keys:  Concept, Characters, and Worlds.  I did this by using my five favorite film franchises of all-time:  Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, and The Thin Man.  I will also be using these franchises to illustrate the final Keys as well.  While I wont always be praising these franchises and will often use individual films in the franchises to show how not to do a film in a franchise, at the end of the day not only do I love majority of the films in these five franchises, I think in terms to adhering to the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise, they have been the most successful at implementing them.  With that all said, on to today and Key Number Four, which is Continuity.


4.  Continuity
The fourth most important key to a successful film franchise is often the hardest to get a handle on for filmmakers.  I am referring to continuity, that thorn in the side of many once great film franchises that has made the house of cards come tumbling down more than on one occasion.

Here's the trick with continuity, and why it is the thing that I feel filmmakers are challenged with the most when making sequels or prequels to pre-existing films.  When we, as an audience, pay money to see these franchise films, we essentially are wanting the same experience we've already had, just under different circumstances.  When I watch a James Bond movie, while the Bond girls and the plot may be different, I'm looking for a certain tone and visual style.  I want that tongue-in-cheek banter, the double entendres, the seemingly insane gadgets, and if a Bond film is lacking one of those elements, it just doesn't feel like Bond to me.  This is why the uber-serious 007 outing, Quantum of Solace, was often critiqued as being, "Bond via Bourne."  It didn't feel like Bond because it was missing many of the elements that had always transferred from one Bond film to the next, most notably the tone and visual style that the goofier elements gave most Bond films.  There just was this levity that was missing.  However, tone is not the only other thing that can often screw up continuity, it's also the world the film is set in.

This is a point I actually touched on with Key Number Three - Worlds, when I talked about how the representation of the wizarding world in the Harry Potter films changed a little bit from film-to-film with the changing directors, to where the final film in the series was not seemingly taking place in the same world that was established in the first film.  This is continuity as well.  It's comforting to return to places and see that they have never changed.  While you have changed, these places will always be the same, and the same holds true for places in movies.  However, if I have a critique of the Harry Potter films, it's that the look of Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world changed too drastically from film-to-film for the films to always look as if they're from the same franchise.  However, not only is the continuity in the world of the story important, so is simple storyline continuity from film-to-film.

This is the area where failure of continuity is most noticeable, when something happens in one film, and then in the next film, an event occurs or a line of dialogue is said that completely negates what previously happened, fans are miffed.  A perfect case and point is in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi.

In that film, Leia tells Luke that she barely remembers her mother, but that she always seemed sad.  Now, the Star Wars films have always been unique in that sense that the fourth, fifth, and sixth movies were made two decades before the first three movies in chronological order.  Therefore, when George Lucas went back and did what is now deemed the Prequel Trilogy, he had to fill in gaps, showing us the moments that were only described in the original films, such as that moment with Leia from the sixth film.  Here's where the ball was dropped.  When time came in Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, for Luke and Leia's birth, their mother died in childbirth before Leia could ever really even see her.  So how could Leia remember her sad mother if she was a screaming infant at the time who still couldn't open her eyes?  The point I'm making is not to tear the prequels down, in fact I've gone on record more than once stating my fandom of the Prequel Trilogy, but this is the perfect example of how continuity from film-to-film was not fully thought out before it was committed to celluloid.  Now, while this kind of continuity is arguably more important in finite franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars, where each new film is picking up the story where the last left off, we still expect a slight shade of this same type of continuity in neverending franchises.

In Indiana Jones, we are given the time and date when that particular adventure happened.  While it's conceivable that Indy goes on many adventures we never see, and it's why I still think the role could be recast like 007 and we could see more adventures of Indy from the Thirties and Forties, at the end of the day, you still need to tie the timelines together somehow and at least acknowledge Indy's previous adventures if it was a sequel and not a prequel to a pre-existing film.  This is the area where the Indiana Jones films have been most successful in terms of continuity.  It's often only little inside jokes or whatnot, but by Indy himself often acknowledging adventures he went on in the past, it makes us who have followed Indy on all of his adventures get the joke and reminisce alongside him.

My favorite example of this is in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy and Ilsa are in the Venetian catacombs and see a drawing of the Ark of the Covenant on the wall.  Ilsa asks what it is and Indy tells her the Ark.  When she asks if he's sure, he replies by telling her that he was pretty darn sure.  It's a funny moment that would not be possible if it weren't for continuity.  Thankfully, the James Bond films and The Thin Man films have both done this, and it only makes each new case or adventure feel more robust, familiar, and lived in.

The bottom line with continuity is that we need it in our film franchises to have that comforting place to return to.  That place in which we can always depend on for escape from the ruts of everyday life.  If a film franchise neglects continuity in terms of tone, visual style, or in terms of storyline elements form film-to-film, we often feel betrayed by the films.  This is why I always wish more film franchises would apply to the if it ain't broke, don't fix it mentality, because that's what we, as fans, want.


Tune in tomorrow as I post the final Key to a Successful Film Franchise.  Key # 5 - Longevity!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Keys to a Successful Film Franchise: Key # 3 - Worlds

With Hollywood franchise crazy, I felt I'd lay down the five things that all good film franchises need to do in order for them to be successful.  In other words the Five Keys to a Successful Film Franchise.  I started this series the other day illustrating Keys Number One and Two, Concept and Characters, by using my five favorite film franchises of all-time:  Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, and The Thin Man.  I will also be using these franchises to illustrate the other Keys as well.  While I wont always be praising these franchises and will often use individual films in the franchises to show how not to do a film in a franchise, at the end of the day not only do I love majority of the films in these five franchises, I think in terms to adhering to the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise, they have been the most successful at implementing them.  With that all said, on to today and Key Number Three, which is Worlds.

3.  Worlds
The third most important key to a successful film franchise is quite possibly the greatest difference maker between many similar franchises, and that is because the third key is a visual cue that clues the viewer into which franchise they're watching.  I am talking about the worlds in which a film franchise takes place.  You cannot overstate the importance of the world or worlds in which a story transpires, because next to characters, the world, aka the setting, is the thing that keeps us coming back.  We like to revisit Tatooine or Hogwarts.  It feels like home.  However, when creating a world, there are three rules I personally feel franchise films should follow:

1.) The World must be immersive.

2.) The World must work in tandem with the tone of the franchise.

3.) The World must never change.

Immersion is number one because it is the thing that really separates a good franchise from a great one.  If you get the feeling that this is a made-up world where no one else but the characters live, then it feels very small and isolated.  In the cases of franchises like Star Wars or Harry Potter, we cannot suspend disbelief in the fantasy and sci-fi nature of the concept if we are not immersed in the worlds.  Luckily, all five franchises on this list have done a good job with immersion.  Of course, what do I mean by immersion?

Immersion is simply the feeling that this is a living breathing world outside of these characters.  While we only follow these characters, there is a sense that not everyone is a Jedi or a wizard, that not everyone is a sleuth or a secret agent, but that there are people from all different walks of life who actually do boring, mundane things in these worlds like we do in real life.  I'm not saying I want to see someone farming in Star Wars rather than having lightsaber battles, but the understanding that there is more to this world than meets the eye makes the world feel more adventurous, slightly more mysterious, and bigger and simply more immersive all at the same time.  It's the little touches in the world that give the feeling of infinite possibilities.

Take a perfect example in the sixth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  In between scenes, there is a quick cutaway shot of two kids getting a snack from a wizarding world vending machine where there was a tiny fire-breathing dragon inside who roasted nuts and then dispensed them.  After that we cut to our main characters.  It's little touches like that, and the headless horseman ghost always chasing after his head multiple times in the background of the third Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that make all the difference.  The thing is though, even if you've made the world feel immersive, you have to make sure that the world works in the tone set up for the franchise.

If I am watching any film in The Thin Man franchise, I want to have the feeling that danger is always lurking behind every corner, while everything is funny and glib at the same time.  It's a tough tone to nail, luckily all six films in the franchise did this to varying degrees of success.  The thing that The Thin Man franchise did, is that it made every single supporting character mysterious enough to where you believed that they might have been a killer, but lively enough in personality to where they were funny or witty.  This is just another part of world building.  The world has to represent this tone in the way it's designed and the way it is shot.  The Thin Man achieves this feat by using high contrast lighting, with heavy shadows and shafts of light common in film noir, for the suspense scenes, while having more even lighting, to where we can see everything, for the lighthearted scenes.  It created this world where light and dark are not always proportionate, but was proportionate to the mood that they were trying to sell at that moment.  This applies to James Bond and Indiana Jones as well, where the elements needed to be designed with enough of an imaginative flare to where they look a few shades more cartoonish than our real worlds.  This allows us the opportunity to suspend our disbelief in the adventure and not be constantly saying, "That's impossible."

The third thing about worlds and franchises, is that the worlds should always remain the same.  This point kind of goes hand-in-hand with Key Number Four - Continuity.  We return to these franchises to revisit these characters and to once more journey back to these worlds that we love almost as much as our own homes, if there is a change in that worlds' appearance, it doesn't feel the same.  The Harry Potter franchise has been the biggest offender of this.

The first two films in the franchise were designed by director Chris Columbus with the idea in mind that the time period the film is set in is intentionally vague.  He wanted to give the films this timeless feel, to where they felt as if they could have been made at anytime in the 20th Century, therefore the clothing and the environments were all looks that have existed both today and fifty years ago.  However, when the franchise changed directors with the third film in the franchise, the new director, Alfonso Cuaron, brought a more modern, gothic sensibility to the wizarding world that clashed with the warmer, more timeless environs of the first two films.  The fourth film changed directors again with Mike Newell and the style became even more modern with less of the gothic flourishes, portraying more and more things as if it was really happening in our real world.  Then came director David Yates with the fifth film, he helmed the final four films in the franchise, and he completely forsook any vestiges of the timeless style left over, as well as the gothic style, and went full tilt into making the films feel modern and realistic.  The question is really which style do you prefer the most?  Personally, I've always loved the timeless aesthetic for movies because I think it helps movies to age better, but the problem this constant shift in world presents, from a franchise point of view, is that it alienates audience members based upon which style of Hogwarts and the wizarding world they liked best.

The problem that Harry Potter still runs into is that fans not only gripe about cuts and changes from the book (and believe me that's enough to warrant a whole other post), but they also gripe and complain about the everchanging Hogwarts.  Why?  Because it no longer feels like home.  No one likes to return to something after having been away for years and to see it changed and different.  That is what is at stake here, and it's why keeping the worlds the same throughout a franchise is key, because otherwise you start splintering the fanbase.  Fans will say I like this film in the series, but I hate this one because it didn't feel like the franchise, and vice versa.  Bottom line, establish your world and don't change it.  Stick to it and just grow from there while still maintaining the things that attracted moviegoers in the first place.


With this all said, that's all I've got for Key Number Three.  I hope you enjoyed it! 
Check back in a couple of days for Key Number Four - Continuity!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Movie Review: "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Note, this poster was before the title change.
You know, any movie that puts its directors name in front of the title should tell you something.  Sure, they say it was because of a copyright dispute, but at the end of the day it's also telling you that it's going to be one man's reinterpretation of how he wishes history had transpired.

The film, Lee Daniels' The Butler, directed by the titular Lee Daniels, is an indulgent work that is more fiction than it is true.  Does this mean it's a terrible movie?  Not by any stretch of the imagination, in fact The Butler is one of the better made movies of 2013.  It's well acted, well written, and has plenty of moments that are enjoyable or fascinating enough to warrant seeing, but don't expect a history lesson, because that's not what you'll get.

Forrest Whitaker portrays Cecil Gaines, an African American man who grew up on a plantation in the South and eventually became a butler at the White House, serving every President from Ike to Reagan.  A fascinating concept, but one that is only part of the way true.  The real life butler was Eugene Allen, and unlike the movie, his wife was not an alcoholic, he only had one son and that one son was not involved in the Civil Rights' movement, and Allen was reportedly always satisfied with his job at the White House.  What Daniels has done with The Butler is take a concept that is ripe with the potential to recreate fascinating historical moments in the Oval Office, and has rather put that on the backburner to make a Civil Rights' odyssey by fabricating events and characters that never existed to meet his personal agendas.

Honestly, this may sound like I think that The Butler was an atrocity, I just think it could have been more than it was.  What The Butler is, is an enjoyable time at the movies, but it has to be taken as fiction and not as fact.  Unfortunately by saying that it's, "Inspired by a True Story," it confuses audiences into thinking this is the truth, this is why I have a problem with Daniels' fabrications.  Is Oprah Winfrey's portrayal as Cecil's alcoholic wife a towering performance worthy of Oscar attention?  Yes, but it's nothing like the real woman.  Is seeing many of the most important moments in Civil Rights history fascinating from a historical standpoint?  Yes, but the real life butler's son was not a Freedom Rider turned Black Panther who managed to be a part of every single major event in Civil Rights history.  What the film really feels like is Daniels had a desire to make a movie about his opinions on race relations and the Civil Rights movement, and decided to take a story that had very little to nothing to do with it to tell this story.  This is not what makes the story of real life butler, Eugene Allen, so fascinating.

The idea that a man saw firsthand some of our country's most tumultuous times in the one place where you could have the complete truth, that is a story worthy of history, and there are hints of that in this film which is why I'm so frustrated.  There's a scene when Eisenhower is President and it's the first time Cecil serves inside the Oval Office, and it's a fascinating scene to watch.  In it, Cecil is serving the President, basically being a fly on the wall, as he watches the President dealing with important politics with his Cabinet members.  The entire movie could have just been scenes like this and it would have been stronger and more honest to history, and if well researched by the writer of the film, could have been a rare glimpse into the moments that shaped our country as we know it.  As it is, Daniels is obsessed with keeping this a Civil Rights story, and he excludes anything that has nothing to do with it.
Only one brief scene even alludes to Nixon's impending impeachment, and the controversial terms of Ford and Carter are completely skipped over.  Why?  Because the controversy in these times wasn't so much about race relations, but come on, how fascinating would it have been to see the standoff in Iran at the American embassy through the butler's eyes, as he watches Carter trying to negotiate.  Or what about Watergate?  He was there, seeing this firsthand.  Goodness, even the subplot involving Cecil and Caroline Kennedy's special relationship was far more fascinating than the fabricated elements.  This kind of honest movie writes itself, but Daniels wanted it to be something else, and I would have no problem with that had it not been so one sided.

It's obvious that Daniels is trying to make a political statement with this film, and uses shock and awe filmmaking tactics to do this.  The way he represents Cecil and his family working on the plantation is as if they were slaves, afraid of the evil white man watching over them who shot Cecil's Dad just for looking at him after he took advantage of Cecil's Mom.  There was no motivation for this character to do this, and am I the only one that was thinking, this was the 1920s, they were sharecroppers, not slaves?  Or what about the scene where Cecil walks down the street where two black men are hanging from a tree, lynched?  Did things like this happen?  Yes, but did they happen all the time and to one man and his family?  No.

So what do I really think of Lee Daniels' The Butler?  Honestly, I think it's a well made movie that could have been a lot better than it was.  Did I laugh at most of the moments that were supposed to be funny?  Yes.  Did I feel emotion when I was supposed to?  You bet.  It's a great movie at manipulating your emotions, and that's because of the exquisite cast.  Even though all of the superstar actors may not always look just like their famous historical counterparts, everyone from Robin Williams as Ike and Alan Rickman as Reagan, did phenomenal jobs that really add to the movie.  Then there's Forrest Whitaker, whose subtle, emotionally charged performance really makes you care for Cecil.  While I do not agree with Lee Daniels' tactics to achieve his desired goal, I cannot lie and say I did not enjoy this film as a movie, but as a historical reenactment, it is very one sided.

I give Lee Daniels' The Butler a C!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Keys to a Successful Film Franchise: Key # 2 - Characters

With Hollywood franchise crazy, I felt I'd lay down the five things that all good film franchises need to do in order for them to be successful.  In other words the Five Keys to a Successful Film Franchise.  I started this series the other day illustrating Key Number One - Concept, by using my five favorite film franchises of all-time:  Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, and The Thin Man.  I will also be using these franchises to illustrate the other Keys as well.  While I wont always be praising these franchises and will often use individual films in the franchises to show how not to do a film in a franchise, at the end of the day not only do I love majority of the films in these five franchises, I think in terms to adhering to the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise, they have been the most successful at implementing them.  With that all said, on to today and Key Number Two, which is Characters.


2.  Characters
The second most important key to a successful film franchise is also the most prominent reason as to why filmgoers continue to revisit their favorite film franchises, the characters.

Character is the thing that is what goes that step further past concept and separates a film franchise from every other detective series or sci-fi epic.  Try to imagine The Thin Man movies without boozy Nick and Nora as your always witty guides?  Or try to imagine Indiana Jones without Indy himself?  These franchises would not be as much fun, nor would they be the same.

Character is the thing that attracts me to the James Bond movies over Mission Impossible.  The same can be said for why I prefer the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies over most other similar fantasy/sci-fi franchises, because I love and adore the characters and would probably watch them doing the most mundane and menial tasks.  With that said, once you introduce a character and implant them in the cultural consciousness, the character becomes an entity unto themselves and every viewer has their own opinion as to what makes that character their character.

The thing that filmmakers must be mindful of when making multiple films from a set of characters, is that viewers will call them out if they ever have the characters do anything out of character.  I remember watching the fifth movie in The Thin Man series, The Thin Man Goes Home, and there is one scene where Nick gets mad at Nora for snooping around behind his back.  The rest of the movie Nick is in character, but it's this one scene that makes that particular entry in the series one of the weakest.  In all of the other films in the series, Nick never gets mad at Nora for her snooping on her own behind Nick's back, they would always counter it with clever rapier wit, demeaning one another, rather than getting angry.  This is a case and point where these characters weren't like themselves, and it reflected on the film itself, to where it's not necessarily a movie in The Thin Man series I'm real eager to ever revisit.  The same can be said for very-un-007-like moments in films such as The Man With the Golden Gun.  All of this to say, is that creating a character worth revisiting is not easy.  What makes creating characters so difficult?

Well, for starters, there are two types of franchise characters (in fact there are two types of franchises in general).  The thing with franchises is that there are the neverending franchises, where there is never an ending for the characters and they're always just going off on another adventure or case.  Of course, then there are the finite franchises, where there are clear beginnings and endings.   

Bond, Indy, and The Thin Man are neverending franchises.  The challenge with a franchise like those is in creating characters that might change slightly based upon the age they're represented as -- young or old -- but that their core personality never changes.  We want to see James Bond jumping from woman to woman, it's who he is, we don't ever want him to wise up.  The same can be said for Indiana Jones.  As for Nick and Nora, we want them to always be that same witty couple who love and berate each other so much, that they never actually say, "I love you."

Of course, when you're dealing with franchise characters like those in Star Wars or Harry Potter, where they are in finite franchises, you want to see those characters actually grow and change from film to film.  We want to see Luke Skywalker go from being a simple farmboy to a wise warrior.  We want to see Harry Potter go from the abused orphan to being the Chosen One to save the entire wizarding world.

Bottom line, franchise characters are difficult.  If you're going to create a neverending character, then that character has to be interesting and different enough from those we know in our everyday life to want to continue visiting them.  Most importantly though, we don't want them to change.  Neverending characters are like comfort food.  While the environments around them might change, their personalities never change and they always remain that person we fell in love with at the core.  As for finite characters, we want to see growth through tragedy and triumph.  Yes, we want finite characters to also be interesting and different, but the main thing we want to see is that change, and it's the thing that both the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises have quite possibly excelled at the best.  Now, is it possible for the two types of characters to bleed over into one franchise?  Yes.

Typically in a neverending franchise, the sidekicks, love interests, and bad guys, are finite characters that change, grow, live, or die.  In a finite franchise, typically supporting characters can be neverending, like the ghosts in Harry Potter, or the prime example of C-3PO and R2-D2 in Star Wars, those two are the same characters throughout all six films and every TV show, video game, comic book, and novel.

Ultimately, while concept is the thing that typically attracts us to a film franchise, it is the characters that make us want to continue to revisit these worlds time and time again.  Which brings me to the next Key to a Successful Franchise and wraps up Key Number Two.


Come back in a few days for Key Number Three - Worlds!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Movie Review: "The World's End"

For me personally, Hot Fuzz was one of the single greatest comedies ever made, so anything that follows it would be a let down.  The World's End fails to live up to the prior highs that the trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, managed to give us with Shaun of the Dead, and most importantly, Hot Fuzz.  In the film, Pegg portrays Gary King, an obnoxious sort who simply wants to relive the glory days with his four childhood friends, who have all moved on in life without him.  How does Gary plan on doing this?  By completing the epic pub crawl that he and his friends failed to complete when they were teenagers.  However, when they return to their hometown, they find it has been taken over by robots bent on world domination.  It's a premise that seems ripe with potential, and as far as the character arcs go, co-screenwriters, Wright and Pegg, make it work, but there is a serious lack of memorable moments.  There was never any line of dialogue or moment that topped anything that the trio had previously done in their other two films together, and that's the thing, The World's End just feels like a tired exercise.  Not to mention the fact that the film takes far too long to finally get to the most enjoyable parts, which is the robot bashing action, with us not getting our first clue about the bots till over a half hour into the film.  All in all, The World's End is well made, and you can't help but laugh at what this trio have concocted, but it is a let down.

I give The World's End a D+!

Ben Affleck is the New Batman!

So that's that.  It seems only like yesterday that Warner Bros. announced at Comic-Con that the sequel to this past Summer's Man of Steel would be a Batman/Superman movie, tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman, or Superman vs. Batman (according to screenwriter David Goyer).  Well, it only took a little over a month for Warners to pick their choice for the new Batman after Christian Bale reported mere weeks before Comic-Con that he would be in no further Batman films, which that right there should have been the sign of things to come.  The rumors flew around that Warners was looking to present an older, more seasoned Batman, compared to Henry Cavill's still wet behind the ears Superman.  The list of possibles included almost every major actor from about the age of 35-50, with everyone from Josh Brolin to Ryan Gosling considered frontrunners by the rumor mill at one point or another, but the wait is no more, because the role has been cast!  The new Dark Knight is Ben Affleck.

Okay, let that sink in for a minute.  I know what you're thinking:  Ben Affleck?  The guy who made Gigli?  Well, he'll never live that one down, but I find his casting intriguing.  Here's why.

First, this is intriguing because of Affleck's history with superheroes.  Not only did he play Daredevil, but he sort of played Superman in Hollywoodland, the film about the mysterious death of TV Superman, George Reeves.  Then there's the fact that Affleck was reportedly approached by Warner Bros. about a year ago to direct and star in a Justice League film that would have conceivably spun out of Man of Steel.  Affleck was not interested then and turned it down, but now he is interested.

I am personally intrigued, first off, to know what changed Affleck's mind.  Maybe it's the fact that he feels the pressure will be less not directing and only acting.  That is a possibility.  The other possibility is that Warner Bros. and David Goyer clued him into what the story of the film will be about and he wanted a slice of the pie.  These type of behind the scenes workings are never fully revealed to us clamoring audiences, because once an actor, or anyone for that matter, signs on to a movie, their job is to say only good things about the script, the director, and the studio.  Have you ever noticed that?  If you hear interviewers ask an actor in a press junket why they took a part, the actors say it was because of the script or the director, or they wanted to work with a certain actor, it's never that they were just offered a huge payday and would feel terribly stupid if they turned it down.  Of course, I'm getting offtrack, because the casting of Affleck as Batman is intriguing for a second reason.

The second reason Affleck's casting is intriguing, is because Affleck has already played a superhero in the Marvel/20th Century Fox film version of Daredevil.  While that film did not succeed at the box office, and Affleck considered it a personal creative failure, the film really isn't as bad as most people remember it, and in fact I thought Affleck made a convincing Matt Murdock.  He had the charm that Murdock has, especially with women, but he also brought a gruffness whilst in the costume.  Both qualities will come in very handy for Affleck in doing Bruce Wayne/Batman, but the other thing he brought to Daredevil was this battered, tortured soul, that accentuated the character's past.  This quality is the main reason as to why I was not completely taken aback by Affleck's casting.  Of course, take in mind, no one has seen anything yet in regards to script or footage.

It's always hard to tell how someone will do with a role, sight unseen, without having seen a screen test or anything, but based on Affleck's previous work, with a similar superhero in demeanor, I think he might just pull Batman off.  It's a tough gig to do, for sure, to follow up such an acclaimed and beloved run as the one that Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan had with The Dark Knight trilogy.  I pity any actor who has to be the first to follow up, running the risk of being seen as a substitute rather than the actual teacher.  What heightens this risk is the fact that co-screenwriter of The Dark Knight trilogy, David Goyer, is writing this Batman/Superman film, and therefore the question remains as to how different in characterization will he really be from the Christian Bale Batman?  As I said, we can't answer any of those questions yet, but I'll remind fans that people thought Michael Keaton would make a terrible Batman when Tim Burton first cast him in the late '80s, and the resulting film became one of the first big box office superhero films that was taken seriously by critics and audiences.  Lest we forget a similar reaction to when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker?

In summation, I've never been the biggest Ben Affleck fan, but if he does the job well, which I think he has the potential to do, I think he can be a worthy successor to what has already come before (provided he bulks up of course).  While this seems almost like a ploy on the part of Warner Bros. to have a bigger box office draw attached to the film, as well as to keep Affleck happy, seeing as how one of the last films he did for them won Best Picture at the Oscars, it's hard for me to not pull for any new superhero film in hopes that it's actually good and becomes a worthy addition to my greatest films of all-time list.  My only fear is that Warner Bros. is in such a rush to make this movie, in the light of their supposed disappointment that Man of Steel topped out at around only $290 million at the domestic box office, that they cast the first person who just seemed kind of right.  Because the last thing the world needs is Superman being given a chance to prove himself on his own.  No we've gotta try and reach box office numbers like The Avengers by throwing in Batman.  Did it never occur to them that the box office haul wasn't as big as they wanted it to be, because the film was such a radical reinterpretation of the source material that alienated many fans?  But I'm getting offtrack again.  Back on...

Affleck could knock the role out of the park, as I said earlier, I think he has the potential to do it.  What does he need in order to do so?  Well, I think it's simple, a killer script, and that's not on Affleck.  That's now putting the ball back in the court of Goyer, Warner Bros., and director Zack Snyder.  I was not a fan of Man of Steel, I've already said that enough, so the script and direction in all honesty have me more tied up in a knot than the casting of Batman.  Not only are Goyer and Snyder going to have to work on their portrayal of Superman and his personality, but they are having to craft a Batman that is hopefully not too similar to Christian Bale's that gives Affleck some wiggle room.  Not to mention my trepidation that by calling the film Batman vs. Superman and using the fight between the two in The Dark Knight Returns as the rumored basis for the movie, might not be the best way to introduce this classic friendship between polar opposites to the world.  Of course, if they do like The Avengers did, show Batman and Superman fighting for most of the movie, and then teaming up at the end to save the day and realizing that they actually respect one another, then I think everything could work out fine.  Once more, back to Affleck and the real news of the week, that Batman has been cast.

While I would have personally loved to have seen Jim Caviezel don the role, purely because of his work on Person of Interest, here's wishing Affleck the best of luck, and that the potential from his previous superhero portrayal can be fully realized under the guise of the Dark Knight.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Keys to a Successful Film Franchise: Key # 1 - Concept

Hollywood is obsessed with franchises, that much is a guarantee.  The film industry loves stories and characters that they can make multiple films from.  Sequels, spin-offs, prequels, you name it, if it features an already beloved character or story, Hollywood wants to make it and continue to print that money.  However, the thing is, is that Hollywood does not always take their promising franchises and make good films.  Every year there are countless big blockbuster films that are sequels that fail at the box office and with audiences, and even more so, there are countless potential big budget franchise starters that fail to gain any traction and ever get a sequel (think John Carter, The Prince of Persia, or The Lone Ranger).

The thing with film franchises is that many seem to think Hollywood's obsession with franchising characters and stories is a new thing, but in fact the film franchise has been around since the Golden Age of Cinema.  Back in the 1930s, Hollywood cranked out franchises such as The Thin Man, Tarzan, and Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes movies.  Not to mention the Universal monster movies which technically beat Marvel to the punch at bringing together franchises like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman, into countless crossovers throughout the Forties.  The film franchise has only become a more and more prominent part of the film industry since then, with there being more film franchises now more than ever. 

A large part of this is due to technology finally allowing Hollywood the opportunity to affordably adapt many of the comics or sci-fi novels that were once deemed too expensive, and many of those entities are ongoing stories and therefore so are their films.  Even still, while I am glad I'm now getting to see pretty much any story that can be imagined on the bigscreen, I'm not so desperate for big, lavish films, that I want the studios and filmmakers to forsake quality over quantity.   Why do the studios do this?  It's because they fail to adhere to what I deem the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise.

With Hollywood franchise crazy, I felt I'd like to lay down the five things that all good film franchises need to do in order for them to be successful.  To illustrate these points, I will be using my five favorite film franchises of all-time:  Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, and The Thin Man.  While I wont always be praising these franchises and will often use individual films in the franchises to show how not to do a film in a franchise, at the end of the day not only do I love majority of the films in these five franchises, I think in terms to adhering to the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise, they have been the most successful at implementing them.  With that all said, I will be posting the Five Keys as separate posts, adding a new Key everyday till done.  Today, I'll kick things off with Key Number One!


1.  Concept
The first, and quite possibly most important key to a successful film franchise is concept.  Concept is the basic nugget of the idea that you tell someone when you're trying to convince them to watch a movie or even a series of movies.

It's about a husband-and-wife that solves murders.  Or it's about a boy who goes to a school to become a wizard.  Or it's about an archaeologist who searches for supernatural artifacts.  Or it's about a war set in space.  Or it's about a secret agent who saves the world.  I just described to you the concepts of The Thin Man, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and James Bond.  Now, you might ask is concept really that important to a successful film franchise?  To that I answer, yes.  In fact, it's the glue that holds every subsequent film in a franchise together.

What keeps audiences coming back to the great franchises is that they want to see something familiar.  They have an expectation and they want the films to meet that expectation.  If they went to see a Star Wars movie that was set on planet Earth in 2013, they'd want their money back, because that's not Star Wars.  While characters might be one of the reasons we love these franchises, the concept is the blueprint.  Without the concept of these stories, there could not be these franchises, because the concept is what opens up the door for all of the potential characters and stories that these concepts can and have spawned.  Fortunately, this is the key that most film franchises tend to get right.

Most film studios at least understand that if you're going to make a James Bond movie, you aren't going to make him a mild-mannered school teacher, but rather you're going to send him on a jet-setting secret mission.  With that said, it's harder in these days to come up with a concept for a franchise that isn't too similar to films that have already been made.

How many film franchises are there now about secret agents who save the world?  BourneMission Impossible?  What separates these franchises and makes them unique?  Well, ultimately, as I said, the concept is simply just the blueprint for these stories.  Two people could set out wanting to make a movie about secret agents, and the two resulting movies would more than likely be completely different in terms of all the other four remaining keys, therefore they are not the same movie, even though the concept is the same.


And that's Key Number One, come back in the coming days to see Key Number Two - Characters.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review Roundup - Aug. 9, 2013

Boy, oh, boy.  2013 has been a real lackluster year at the movies so far.  Even the movies that I've given the highest ratings have all had some little thing about them that I didn't like.  Even my favorite movie of the year so far, Star Trek Into Darkness, fell victim.  I did not particularly like how the villain was beaten at the end of the movie, and for that I still prefer the more optimistic and complete first film from 2009.  I really need 2013 to step up its game, because I'm beginning to get a bad case of movie depression. 

I need to see a great movie that is 100% amazing, and not just 98% or 99%.  Where are The Avengers when you need them?  Oh, right, they wont be back till Summer 2015.  At least we're getting Marvel's Agents of SHIELD on TV starting Sept. 24th to tide us over till Thor returns to the bigscreen in November.  As it is, that's enough ranting for one day, the true point of this post is that I have reviewed five films and have presented links to the five films below.

The films are Mud, Red 2, The Wolverine, 2 Guns, and Elysium.  I've been fairly busy with work for the last month or so and my movie reviews kind of got backlogged, but I've finally reviewed the last five 2013 releases I've seen, therefore enjoy...


Red 2

The Wolverine

2 Guns


Movie Review: "Elysium"

Writer/director Neil Blomkamp's Elysium is much like his prior feature, District 9, a message movie that takes itself too darn seriously and never has much fun.

The title of the film refers to a space station orbiting Earth, called Elysium.  In the future, the rich have left Earth to live on Elysium, while the rest live in poverty and squalor on Earth, that's where we find Matt Damon's Max.  Max is given only five days to live, but they can miraculously cure him if he can get to Elysium, but of course the "border patrol" of Elysium don't want any illegal immigrants on their space station and will fight him at all costs.  Sound heavy handed?  That's because it is.  The thing is, nothing is wrong with a message movie, but when the film is zero fun, that's when I have a problem with it.

The thing with Elysium is that none of the characters are really that likable.  There is no real sense of hope, warmth, or just the goodness of humanity.  The film's just all doom and gloom while trying to hammer home Blomkamp's personal beliefs.  The thing is, this could have been a five times better film had Blomkamp made the characters we're supposed to care about enjoyable to spend time with.  Would it have killed for Matt Damon to of cracked a joke once in a while, or behaved in any way truly heroic?  Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, this is a $100 million Summer popcorn extravaganza, and I don't wanna feel depressed when I leave a movie where I kind of just wanted entertainment with a little bit of substance, rather than substance with no entertainment.

While Elysium manages to skate by with enough action and dazzling imagery to not be a complete waste of nearly two hours, if you've seen the trailers you have seen the best of what this movie has to offer.

I give Elysium a D!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Movie Review: "2 Guns"

2 Guns is the latest Denzel Washington action movie where he kicks butt and takes names, only this time he's not the only charming bad boy, he's doing it all with a charismatic Mark Wahlberg.

2 Guns tells the complex, at times convoluted story, of two drug dealers who both happen to be undercover law enforcement agents, who don't realize that the other is law enforcement.  Okay, you still with me, because the movie only gets crazier from here on out, but if you can keep up with that, then you'll like 2 Guns.

What really makes this movie work is the chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg.  They're funny together, and they really make would could have been a standard, run-of-the-mill action flick worth watching at least once.  It's fun about 75% of the time, and its thanks to its two leads, however, the plot is nothing new and it definitely is not engaging enough to keep your interest piqued, so do expect yourself to almost zone out a few times here and there.

Ultimately, if you enjoy a fun, breezy movie that is violent and filled with expletives, 2 Guns will more than satisfy, just don't go looking for too much more.

I give 2 Guns a B-!