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Shit Talking About The Winter Soldier: The Top 5 Things People Are Saying About It, And Why They’re Wrong

There is nothing that sucks the fun and excitement out of a movie more than reading movie reviews. Sometimes it’s physically painful. Movie reviewers, by and large, spend more time reviewing the perception of other people judging them for liking/not liking a movie than the movie itself, and using generic cut-and-paste paragraphs to describe anything within a genre (Indie film? “Transcendent!” Action film? “Some ‘slam bang’ moments that didn’t add up to much!”)

And what the frak is a ‘popcorn movie’? Can this term be used any more, and have any less meaning? 

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 As much as I hate reading them, I do get a lot of request to comment on, and review, movies myself – something I have little interest in doing.

I believe the best time to review a movie is years after it’s been out – once you’ve seen it in the theaters, purchased the Blu-Ray, and had time to reflect on it after multiple viewings. During the ‘sugar shock’ that occurs during the initial release, you’re still a slave to your expectations – plus you’re all pumped up on adrenaline, dopamine, rum, ecstasy, etc. (you guys all take ecstasy before a major movie release, right? No? OK forget I said that…)

BUT - there has been an abundance of hyperbole surrounding The Winter Soldier, soooo, instead of writing a review, I want to comment on the top 5 things I see repeated over and over again about the movie.

Here goes.
 

1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER IS THE BEST MARVEL MOVIE RELEASE EVER (BY FAR)

DISAGREE.

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It’s awesome. A very, very awesome movie. That’s enough of a compliment. To start saying it’s better, or ‘way’ better than other Marvel movies (namely The Avengers) is a little silly, IMO – especially this early on.

The Avengers had Loki. Iron Man. The battle of New York. Hulk unexpectedly punching Thor (and leaping through the air to catch a falling Tony Stark). Tony sacrificing himself to save the city. “That guy is playing Galaga!” Loki getting ragdolled into oblivion. Shwarma. The Thanos tease. The list goes on and on. It was one iconic moment after another, all seamlessly woven into a film that literally had people cheering in the theater I saw it in.

Cheering. Like it was the freaking 80s.

When The Avengers became a multi-billion dollar success, it became somewhat less cool to admit you’re in love with it – it’s the ‘Facebook syndrome’: once grandma starts Liking your pictures and commenting on posts, using it became marginally embarrassing. I get it. Plus Winter Soldier is all shiny and new, and your Aunt Helen has no idea what Hydra is, so you can maintain your comic store cred and still enjoy it.

Is The Winter Soldier a really, really great movie? Yes. Absolutely.

The bestest of all time, evaaaar – waaay better than The Avengers? Too early to make that call. Come back this time next year and tell me if you still feel the same way. At the moment, just love it for what it is.

2. NICK FURY AND BLACK WIDOW FINALLY GOT THEIR MOMENTS TO SHINE

AGREE.

I would argue that Black Widow had her moments in The Avengers, and got her chance to kick an ample amount of ass (and show off her spy-ness, too) – but she definitely got to be center-stage in this one, right alongside Cap himself.

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And it was nice to see more of Sam Jackson reprising his role of Nick Fury, this time in a much more central role. Jackson’s charisma is off the charts, and just being on-screen is enough to give any film a shot in the arm (he actually made the Robocop reboot marginally watchable just by being there).

3. FALCON WAS AWESOME!

DISAGREE.

Anthony Mackie is a good actor, and did a fine job as Sam Wilson, but if there is one gripe I have about Winter Soldier (however minor) it’s that Falcon’s wings came off as a little silly. It feels like something out of a mid-90s Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan than tech from the 2014 Marvel movie universe. I’m sure in 1969 the wings were cool when they were introduced in a comic, but now they seem like a relic.

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Plus – hello – we have IRON MAN. A flying robotic suit that can shoot lasers and missiles, and do all sorts of other insanely cool shit. Strapping big flappy wings to your back just comes off as a little weird after we’ve seen Tony Stark doing his thing in 4 different movies.

4. THE ACTION WAS THE BEST WE’VE SEEN IN A MARVEL MOVIE

SOMEWHAT AGREE.

It was pretty incredible – from Fury’s car scene to Cap and Winter Soldier going toe-to-toe on multiple occasions. And holy shit did the helicarriers look amazing.

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I am not a big fan of the Bourne Identity-style shaky cam, though. A few times the camera zoomed impossibly close during hand-to-hand combat, and the action was simply a blur of still images (possibly made worse by the 3D glasses – I won’t know until I buy the Blu-Ray and rewatch).

Overall this was a tiny gripe. The action was first-rate, and it was easily on par with the fantastic set pieces we’ve been treated to in Thor, Iron Man and The Avengers.

5. THIS WAS THE DARKEST MARVEL MOVIE SO FAR

AGREE (MOSTLY)

While I think the term ‘dark’ gets tossed around so often it’s losing its meaning (much like ‘popcorn movie’) I think it would be better articulated by saying Captain America: The Winter Soldier was edgy,  more complex and more culturally relevant, given its parallels to NSA spying, pre-emptive assassinations, etc.

I think that the tone definitely deviated from other Marvel movies in the sense that it felt more like a spy thriller at times than a comic book movie, although it didn’t shy away from the sci-fi/fantasy elements that make Marvel so much fun.

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Overall this was a near-flawless movie going experience, and I can’t wait to buy it and watch it a zillion more times.

Did you love it? Really, really love it? Let me know in the comments (or on Twitter, Facebook – wherever…I’m easy to find)

Hugs,
Blake xox

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Filed under marvel captain america winter soldier chris evans The Avengers

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My Musings About More Matrix Movies

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The Matrix is my favorite action/adventure/sci-fi film of all time. It’s gorgeous to look at, it asks some interesting questions about reality and our perception of it, and it stands alone as the best American action film ever (certainly where martial arts is involved…over in Asia, only Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa’s best efforts can rival it).

I enjoyed The Matrix: Reloaded (and was largely alone in this feeling) and to a lesser degree, enjoyed The Matrix: Revolutions (which had many, many flaws, including the ending, but was still enjoyable). I know WHY more Matrix movies are in the works…studios love guaranteed cash, and franchises are a way to rake it in. But can the style and originality of the 1999 classic ever be equalled with some watered-down prequels?

If these movie actually do happen, would The Wachowskis be heavily involved in the final product? Ever since Reloaded they’ve been slammed by critics with every outing, and their numbers have been abysmal (Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas didn’t exactly set the box office on fire).

I can’t believe I’m saying this considering how much I love The Matrix, but if there ARE going to be more movies, I sincerely hope The Wachowskis aren’t involved – or, at the very least, their roles are drastically reduced. The films need a new creative voice and a fresh new direction (like Star Wars is getting with Disney and JJ Abrams) if for no other reason than to restore credibility with fans who feel like they were burned in the past. 

Their upcoming film Jupiter Ascending looks very interesting, but doesn’t exactly scream ‘commercial appeal’. If it turns out to be another Wachowski box office flop, I think the studio might consider going with a different director for upcoming Matrix films.

Filed under matrix

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How I Pitched My Book To Mark Millar In An Elevator (And How You Can Rock A Quick Pitch, Too!)

What are you trying to get made? A comic book? A novel? An HBO mini-series about a psychic elf detective and his zombie sidekick? It doesn’t matter how simple or how complicated the premise is: you have to be able to sell it in an elevator.

Allow me to elaborate.

Imagine you step into an elevator somewhere in Hollywood, and standing across from you is Steven Spielberg. He smiles and asks what’s in your hand…it’s your project! Your dream project, and he can make it a reality. He wants the details – the ‘pitch’. You have maybe 30 seconds before he gets off, and you’ll never see him again. So explain it, and make him fall in love with it. And do it fast.

Whether it’s someone you want to work with or someone who might back your project, there’s one thing they have in common: limited time. And with limited time comes limited patience. As amazing and revolutionary that you, the artist, thinks your idea is, no one else cares (yet) and you have only a few precious sentences to make them care. Ramble, and they’ll lose interest, ie. get off the proverbial elevator. They click off your page, delete your Email or mentally check out of the conversation…you’ve lost them forever.

I recently reached out to Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar about my current Kickstarter project (sci-fi/superhero novel ‘Assault or Attrition’) and this was the pitch I sent him:

The premise is somewhat like, “What if Lex Luthor succeeded in killing Superman?”

Not just a ‘What If?’ scenario, but more like a ‘What Now?’ What would he do, how would the world react, and where would he hide? Lex would be the most hated (and hunted) man on the planet.


51 words. 273 characters. Not quite a Tweet, but close – definitely ‘elevator length’.

The result was an endorsement from Mister Millar that helped set my campaign on fire during it’s opening week:

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My ‘long’ story synopsis for the novel consists of three paragraphs, and I edited that down from a page and a half. Cutting out your carefully crafted sentences can feel like you’re severing a limb, and at the time can feel just as painful, but in the end you’ll be thankful you did it.

Edit. Chop. Slice. Erase. Attack that multi-page monstrosity and keep hacking away until you can fit it on a bumper sticker, because that’s what gets people’s attention.

And once you have it down to a couple sentences –  the juicy tidbits that intrigue and entice – then you can lead them to a longer description. They’ll be more receptive to your ideas, and ready to hear the whole story.

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Filed under steven spielberg mark millar kick-ass marvel dc blake northcott assault or attrition Arena mode twitter pitch indy publishing writing

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Why you didn’t like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and why you should stop complaining)

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Did you enjoy Joss Whedon’s new televised hour-long drama, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?

I did. A lot. But not everyone shared my post-viewing enthusiasm. The all-out PR assault leading into last Tuesday’s series premiere had reached a fever pitch over the course of the summer, and it’s hard to blame people’s excitement – a televised tie-in to 2012’s The Avengers certainly deserved our attention. However, the bar was set just a little too high for some; and with great hype (always) comes great disappointment.

I spent the last week reading the glowing praise, as well as the angry grumbles…and of course, the complete nonsense. If you didn’t like it, here are my rebuttals to your complaints (and why you should hang in there):

1. Where were all the Avengers?

As Joss Whedon mentioned before the show launched, this wouldn’t be an ‘Easter Egg Factory’, constantly spitting out guest spots from Marvel Movie alum.

Yes, the possibility exists for a guest spot, and I’m sure we’ll see them in the very near future – but this is about the human, non-powered agents, and not the superheroes.

I want to see the A-listers show up as much as you do, but you’re just gonna have to wait.

2. Why didn’t they have recognizable superhuman characters – why make new ones up?

One complaint is that J. August Richard’s character, who looked similar to Luke Cage, was indeed not Luke Cage.

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In the premiere, I would guess that they didn’t want to focus on any one superhuman, and just make it about the Agents. Especially since the point was to put the character on the sidelines by the end of the episode…so it would be a little silly to say, “Here is Luke Cage! Remember him? Wait, now he’s gone.”

I’m sure there will be some big name characters appearing at some point, but that won’t be until the main players are established.

3. What about the effects? They weren’t as good as the movie.

I know. It’s a TV show. The budget isn’t $200M.

4. The scale was too small.

I actually like the idea of a ‘mystery of the week’, as opposed to ‘the goddamned Apocalypse is upon us’ every episode. Let the blockbuster movies deal with the bi-annual world-ending event, and let the Agents do their own, more X-File-y type of stuff.

I think the scale will allow for deeper character development, and hopefully even more continuity as it weaves in and out of the events of the movies.

5. I didn’t like [insert grumble here]

Let’s face it: there was simply too much hype going into this show – period. Anything short of Tony Stark soaring from the sky with AC/DC blaring in the background was going to cause at least some measure of disappointment.

If you are a fan of Joss Whedon, you know that he likes to world-build. This is what’s happening here. Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse – they all required several episodes to hit their stride, and really grip the viewer. Hell, I wasn’t a hardcore Buffy fan until the middle of season 2, and then it went on to become my favorite series of all time. That’s just the way he operates; Joss takes advantage of the medium, and uses multiple hours to develop characters, relationships, and to reveal ‘the big bad’ – the ultimate hurdle that the protagonists are going to try and overcome.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will get better. It’s inevitable. As great as I thought the initial outing was, I can definitely see it improving, and taking care of all the complaints that people are having.

We will get guest stars. And recognizable heroes. And big budget moments. All that good stuff. Just give it time, relax, and enjoy the ride.

And if you come complaining to me on Twitter or Facebook, I will be forced to write an assessment of your behaviour. And rest assured, it will involved a drawing of a little poop with knives sticking out of it.


Love and kisses,
Blake XOX

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Filed under marvel agents of shield agents of s.h.i.e.l.d. the avengers

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The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar

This is a couple of years old, originally posted by Disney/Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats.

Talking cars aside, this studio has a pretty spotless record of telling amazing stories, IMHO; no matter who you are, or what level you’re at, I’m sure you can find something useful in this list. Enjoy.

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Filed under story telling disney pixar pixar ratatouille